This section covers the opening of Undepoldus House.
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The opening day arrived dull and overcast but it brightened as noon approached. Many personalities were expected to be present, including a large number of Spacers. Admiral van Wijk felt duty bound to come, and as the senior officer, represented the Spacers League. Mrs. Anita Styles represented the FTP. The Mayoress, Simone Abubeka, and Councillor Bhattir Sandhu represented the London Metropolitan Council. Rear Admiral Leonov Chebychev and Commander Ivan Sincayvitch represented the Spacers Club. Pilot Captain Steve Burchnall and Chief Cdr. Carlene Wilson from the Undepoldus Mission came to honour Marita. Captain Eva Polowsky and Lt. Cdr. Monique Moumon from the Freighter Alec, Lt. Parvati Sura, the Surveyor pilot who had been injured and Captain Surgeon Erika Bengtson who had done wonders for Lt. Parvati, represented the rescue team. Lt. Cdr. Boku Adedeyo came back for the day from the Spacers College. Lt. Cdr. Jane Wanneroo, Lt. Cdr. Rachel McInnes, Lts. Sil Agonistes, Martha Dawson, Chao Lan Fang and Gurpit Singh, all close associates from the Spacers Club came to honour Undepoldus. Rear Admiral Rosanne Umberto and Cadet Peter Whitfield sent best wishes by vidcom. Superintendent Abdullah with Sergeant Fisher and his wife also arrived as private citizens and were made very welcome. Ivor Davies, the Park Director, made a brief appearance as Admiral van Wijk cut the ribbon across the viewing area to open Undepoldus House in a formal manner.
George and Marita acted as host and hostess inside the building. Undepoldus had draped himself across George's shoulders, enabling every guest at the party to see him close up. When Jane Wanneroo came to speak to George, Undepoldus extended his front end to press his brown patch against her cheek. She was a little startled by this demonstration from Undepoldus but did not withdraw as he touched her.
"He is giving you a kiss." George joked.
"It is a rather tickly one." she replied.
"He may be trying to make up for the time when your hand was burned."
"You mean he is trying to kiss me better like a little girl?"
"Not exactly, but I think the gesture is a nice one"
"The gesture may be OK but I have had nicer kisses"
George recalled that Jane had been one of his share partners on several occasions.
They laughed and parted as other guests hovered discreetly nearby to talk to George and to see Undepoldus.
Undepoldus however had plans of his own. He seemed to be more
agile as he got bigger. Now he was a metre long and easily able
to transfer himself from George's shoulders onto a nearby table.
He went from the table, onto a chair, and from there he started
making his way around the room under the tables. He kept well
away from the feet of the guests who were mostly standing. George
watched his progress, wondering where he would go. He disappeared
behind the curtain and climbed onto his new display area. The
day had not been allocated for lottery winners so George was surprised
to see a conga-like procession of people passing by on the strip
outside. George could not make up his mind why Undepoldus had
chosen to take up his display position in his new house. He didn't
attack any rocks or drink any water. He just rested there. Did
he like to watch the people going by? Was it a more comfortable
place for him to rest? Did he feel that he had a duty to show
himself to the public? George considered all these possibilities
but could not choose which one would be the most likely. As he
peered around the side of the curtain, unseen by the passing visitors
he felt someone looking over his shoulder. It was Admiral van
Wijk. She said. "He knows his place, doesn't he?"
George replied. "He does, certainly, but it must be very boring for him to rest there for hours at a stretch."
"He is only doing his duty. I know that he is a bright little fellow, and he must know that he is in the care of a quasi-military organisation. He is only doing his watch as all of us have had to do at some time or other."
"He has never been induced to rest there for hours. He needs to spend only about an hour each day feeding. Theoretically he could just ramble around or watch entertainments on the vidcom but he never has done so. When there are no visitors he has just climbed onto my desk in the reptile house and rested by the vidcom. When visitors were due he has resumed his place in the display area. He must have seen more than twenty thousand people pass by. The novelty of it must have worn a bit thin for him by now."
"Well George, there are no visitors due in the ordinary sense. There is this strange group doing a sort of shuffle along the strip. Wouldn't he find that unusual and interesting?"
"Evidently you have not seen the vidcom news ma'am. The strip at the Reptile house was set to give each person a metre of space and a 5.5 second view. The visitors soon discovered that they could have an 11 second view if they were half a metre apart and a longer view if they packed even closer together. It has become the normal way of seeing Undepoldus. It has also led to a craze where young people move around in lines like you see here."
"Well, that's amazing George. But why are they doing a sort of little shuffle?"
"The strip moves quite slowly so each person only has to take a small step to get onto or off the strip. Because of the timing, the person behind always takes a step that is just a fraction of a second out of step with the one in front. This creates a wave pattern that is interesting to see from the side. The strip installers with some visitors tested the strip a few days ago and formed a big ellipse. All participants could see the wave pattern develop so they did their best to maintain it for the fun of it. Now they do this shuffle on the strip to maintain the wave pattern so that it is continuous. It is totally pointless, but many things that are fun to do are pointless, aren't they?"
"It looks like they find their strip shuffle more interesting than Undepoldus."
"I'm with them. I have seen more of Undepoldus than anyone but I still think that he is incredibly dull to look at. All the visitors can see is something between a bottle brush and the sausage-shaped draught excluder that they used to use behind doors in the old days."
"Do you think that he goes to sleep when he is in the display area?"
"You know ma'am, I have never thought of that. All the Earth creatures I have studied have a daily cycle. Most of them sleep at some time although it is hard to tell the difference between wakefulness and sleep with some of them. I have always thought of Undepoldus as being awake all the time for some reason. You have a point ma'am. I will have to try to find out whether he sleeps or not."
"It would have been better if Lt. Cdr. Andersson had brought back a little green man than such a dull and featureless worm, wouldn't it?"
"I don't think so ma'am. A little green man would have been terribly lonely without a little green woman, wouldn't he?"
"Well, how does Undepoldus breed then?"
"That is a complete mystery. He is still immature and many animals have to develop a bit before they have really noticeable gender characteristics. He may be something like a caterpillar that will some day turn into something else like a butterfly. That is why he is here so that he can be studied. I hope to find out what he really is when he gets bigger."
"George, would you consider a share with me tonight?"
"You would be welcome ma'am."
"Less of the ma'am, George. I am just the simple girl Anne-Marie to my share partners. Thank you George. I look forward to seeing you later."
The Admiral left George looking at Undepoldus. Would she mind sharing with him as well tonight? He hoped so.
It seemed a long time ago when the Commander warned him that she would ask for a share. He was right, and George was glad that he had been half-prepared for the request. If she had not asked him, there would be plenty of others who would note whether he went to his room alone or not to ask for a share at the last minute. Anyway, the Admiral would have told the Commander that she would not need a room in the Club tonight, and he would have gently spread the word that George would be unavailable. Although the Commander never shared because he was married to a non-Spacer, he took great care to make sure that the male Spacers resident in the Club did not receive too much female attention. He also was known to suggest who might be available to any female Spacer he thought needed a bit of male companionship. Normally, where permanent partnerships existed, it was the female partner's job to select share partners. However, George's permanent partner, Yin So, was in Singapore, so George was free to select his own share partners. This time, there was an element of politics involved. One should always leave a visiting Admiral with a good impression.
As he stood there, vaguely looking at Undepoldus, he recalled what Marita had told him about the early days of the share system. Her instructors had said that it came about when there was a big increase in the numbers of people permanently employed in Space. The balance of the sexes had begun to reverse. Many couples formed relationships but there were an increasing number of isolated female Spacers. Inevitably there were conflicts when two women wanted the same man. There were several cases of unexpected deaths and one proven case of murder.
The Spacers Council had to find a way to deal with the imbalance.
The solution arrived at was simple but effective. In future, all
permanent Spacer partnerships would have to be registered with
the Council. The female partner in any partnership would have
to accept that she would have to share her male partner from time
to time with another female. However, the female who shared her
partner would always be her choice and not his. As the balance
of the sexes changed so that females outnumbered males two to
one, it became the unwritten rule that each permanent female partner
would select a share partner. The next development came when it
looked like the ratio between the sexes would increase still further.
The Council decided that every Spacer would have to undergo a
course in human relationships. The aim was to ensure that any
two Spacers of opposite sexes who had to work together, would
know that they had each been trained in companionship and would
be expected to give it and receive it.
When news of these courses leaked out on Earth, Spacers were roundly condemned for being immoral and without any human dignity. The Spacers League ignored these condemnations and noted an increase in applications for cadetships. An unexpected result of these courses was the way morale among Spacers improved from a good to a much higher level.
George broke from his reverie and returned to the party. Marita came up to him and said. "I understand that you are likely to be busy tonight. If you need any help, please give me a call."
She giggled. "Could you come and see me tomorrow night so that I can check that she has treated you correctly?"
George smiled. "As long as you are not too hungry Marita."
Marita gave him a peck on the cheek. "I won't be hungry, I will be starving!" she whispered.
Marita introduced George to Carlene and Steve. "They don't make Spacers like they used to in our day, but this one tries his best. I think he is a bit strange because you will usually see him wearing a boa around his neck."
George said. "How did you two manage to stick with this giant for twenty years? I would have thought that you would have seen enough of her by now."
"Carlene said. "Don't include me in that. Steve has seen a heck of a lot more of Marita than I have. It was like Snow White and one of the dwarfs. She said once that she could twist Steve around her little finger and then proved that she could - in free fall of course. Rosy and I ribbed Steve about that for ages."
Steve said in a serious voice. "If it hadn't been for Marita, none of us would be here. We could all be surfing in California where it is warm. You would have thought that she would have told us that she wanted to give a friend a lift."
Carlene said. "I didn't mind her bringing a friend but did she have to bring a 10 year food supply for him as well?"
Steve kept up the banter. "I think that Marita owes the Spacers League a lot of money. The normal baggage allowance is 20 kilos. What would the charge be on an extra 117 kilos on a 4½ light year trip?"
George said. "Just a moment Steve, I will have to work that one out. What do you owe Marita for 10 years nursing care?"
"You have got him there George." said Marita.
The Mayoress and Councillor Sandhu approached so Marita, Carlene and Steve made a diplomatic departure.
Councillr Sandhu said. "Simone, this is Mr. McFigg. He is the worm's keeper. Mr. McFigg, the Mayoress, Mrs. Abubeka. I have tried to explain the worm to her but I am sure that you could do a better job, Mr. McFigg."
"Madam, the worm has moved to the display area. If you would like to follow me I will show him to you."
"Thank you Mr. McFigg. Bhattir has told me that the worm will soon be as big as a whale. Is this true?"
"We cannot be certain madam but everything we have seen gives us that impression. Since we have observed him, he has doubled in size every month. He is two centimetres longer than he was yesterday. This building has been designed so that it can be enlarged as he grows. I would guess that he will stop growing when he is around 50 metres long."
"When will that be?"
"I can't be certain, but I would think in about six months time, in October."
"Surely he can't grow that much in six months. How can that be?"
"He is a metre long now. next month he will be two metres long. In June he should be four metres, in July, eight metres, in August sixteen metres, in Sepember, thirty-two metres and in October up to sixty-four metres if he keeps growing in the same way."
"Why does he double in size every month?"
George was stumped for a moment. The Mayoress was evidently used to asking questions and expecting sensible answers. Eventually he said.
"Think of him as if he were a plant. If you plant a seed, when it starts growing it usually has two small leaves. The leaves use carbon dioxide, water and sunshine to make more of the plant. With only two small leaves, the plant can't grow very much but it soon produces more leaves. With more leaves the plant can grow faster. As it does so it produces even more leaves. Most plants grow in this way. Some end up small like crocuses or snowdrops; some end up large, like sunflowers. To put it another way, the more there is of a plant, the faster it can grow. Undepoldus is a bit like a plant. We know that he uses light, water and carbon dioxide in the same way as a plant although he looks nothing like one. From what we have seen, the more there is of Undepoldus, the faster he can grow."
The Mayoress thought for a minute about George's answer. Then she said. If the worm is like a plant, why does it move like an animal?
"The truth is madam that we don't know. He has animal-like characteristics so we treat him as an animal. He is the first creature we have seen that does not come from Earth. We don't know if the way Undepoldus grows and moves is the normal way, or if the way Earth animals grow and move is the normal way. Undepoldus is being studied here so that we may have a chance to find out."
"Thank you Mr. McFigg. You have already answered the next question I was going to ask. Why was this new house built? What you said is logical. Biology was never my subject. I preferred chemistry at school.
In my position I represent London to the outside world. I am often called upon to answer all sorts of questions about London and I will be expected to know something about the Undepoldus worm because he is here. I have taken the liberty of recording what you have told me. I may not be an expert myself but it never does me any harm when I can quote an expert exactly.
Now, I may be asked by foreign mayors and dignitaries if I can arrange a private viewing of Undepoldus. What answer shall I give?"
"Madam, technically it is not my place to give you an answer. The Spacers League has promised that 5,000 people a day can come to see Undepoldus by entering into a lottery. However, when the normal display period is over, arrangements are made for disabled people and VIPs to come to see him. You, madam, and Mr. Sandhu are two of the six non-Spacers - apart from the FPT staff - who have been able to see Undepoldus directly here. All other people have only been able to see him through the viewing window in the Reptile House until today. The view from outside is the only view that I can offer your guests. However, Admiral van Wijk is here and she could give you the view of the Spacers League if you want more information."
"I have already spoken to her. She has stressed the absolute need for security. She told me that a special exception had been made for Councillor Sandhu and myself with two policemen and a policeman's wife. We are permitted here because we have or have had an interest or a connection with Undepoldus. After today, only Spacers and FPT staff will be permitted to come in here. She has said that the only people who can give permission for non-Spacers to see Undepoldus directly are you and Miss Marita Andersson. I understand the need for the exceptional security and you have given me an answer that agrees with what Miss van Wijk told me. Thank you Mr. McFigg. You may rest assured that I accept your position with regard to my future guests."
The Mayoress took her leave. Councillor Sandhu left with her. George could understand why she had been elected to her office. She was intelligent, efficient, and took her job seriously.
George's next conversation partners were Superintendent Abdullah
with Sergeant Fisher and his wife.
The Superintendent began: "Mr. McFigg sir, I am very pleased to be here today because I want to pass on the thanks of all my staff to those who were involved in the rescue of your Admiral and Mrs. Fisher. It is not just you but I also thank your little friend who is not quite so little as he was. The people we arrested at Romilly Street are convinced that the house was haunted. Sergeant Fisher was also taken into custody for a time until he confessed that he was being blackmailed. He told me that he had received a message just before we left for your Club. It said no harm would come to his wife if he passed on anything he could find out about the Spacers and what they were doing. At that time he knew nothing about the worm. The only information he gave them was that Admiral van Wijk would arrive the next day from Chichester. He expected that she would be accompanied and never dreamed that she could be kidnapped too. The worm knew that something was wrong with Sergeant Fisher that night. He pointed him out to us, didn't he?"
"Yes. I remember. He crawled onto your chair, Sergeant Fisher, at one point. We did not take the hint until he produced a picture of you the next day, after we had discovered that Admiral van Wijk had been impersonated."
Sergeant Fisher said. "Yes, it was a bad moment when I was arrested by my colleagues. I told them about the blackmail message and the fact that my wife was missing. How your worm knew that I was worrying about my wife that night I will never know.
That afternoon one of our men saw you and a lady going for a stroll. We didn't know that you had Undepoldus with you at the time. We gathered that you might be onto something when we saw that you had replaced the actress who had impersonated the Admiral with one of your staff. You were followed because we thought that you were about to pay a ransom for the return of the Admiral. Officers in floaters were given cover jobs to do to see where you were going. You may have seen some of them. You went to 15 Romilly Street as if you had been given directions. You stopped for a moment outside then went on. We wondered why you had stopped just there. We didn't see you leave a parcel so we thought that you had changed your minds about paying a ransom. Then we saw Miss Adedeyo following Miss Dawson. She had met a man and they were going towards Romilly Street. Another man was obviously with them because he was always checking to see if they were followed. We lost sight of Miss Adedeyo and neither of the two men realised that she was tracking them. She changed her dress several times and our trackers could only pick her out again because she stayed so close to Miss Dawson and the two men. She had seen them looking back to see if they were being followed so she walked beside them. When we guessed that Miss Dawson was going toward Romilly Street we had the stripway stopped so that our trackers could follow her more easily without being seen. When Miss Dawson went into 15 Romilly Street with the two men we lost sight of Miss Adedeyo. It was only when she stood by the door after they went in that we realised she was still there. We didn't see her do it but she must have knocked the door or rang the bell. A large man came to the door to see who had called. He was lying on the ground before he saw Miss Adedeyo. We wondered what form of martial art could enable her to overpower a big man so quickly and silently. The second man who came to the door just dropped into her arms. Then when a woman came to the door with a gun in her hand we expected big trouble because a crowd had gathered. Miss Adedeyo just grabbed the gun and let go of it again. We couldn't see then what she had done but anyone who saw that woman's face will never forget how she looked. Miss Adedeyo dealt with her without apparently doing anything. All of the officers who were watching the vidcom clapped her when she bowed. Miss Dawson helped us by pointing at the window. We didn't know why she had not tried to rescue my wife and the Admiral. The Superintendent here saw Undepoldus on the windowsill on the vidcom. He immediately told the floater crew that they should let him climb aboard and to treat him with great respect. It was only afterwards that we discovered why Miss Dawson did not try to rescue your Admiral and my wife. Hundreds of nails and screws in the stairs had been eaten away by acid. More had been attacked in the joists and floorboards on the upstairs landing. One man fell through from the upper floor and another fell through the stairs. Only someone with a ladder or a floater could have rescued my wife and the Admiral. Undepoldus had kept them safe from the kidnappers before they realised something was wrong. He also frightened the kidnappers to death with the pictures on the wallpaper. None of the gang ever saw Undepoldus. They will never find out what he did." He turned to the Superintendent. "Sorry sir if I went on too long but I wanted to let Mr. McFigg know how much my wife and I appreciate what Undepoldus did."
"Don't worry about that Sergeant. It was a good story that was worth retelling. There is one thing that you, Mrs. Fisher might not know. Did you know that Miss Adedeyo has no hands? She has been given some super metal hands that can crush a gun as if it were made of modelling clay. One of our research chaps did a test with an identical gun. He needed an engineer's vice and a massive adjustable spanner to bend the gun's barrel sideways as Miss Adedeyo had done.
Mr. McFigg. I would be obliged if you would introduce us to Miss Adedeyo. The course she organised was outstanding. Before you introduce us to her, I want to tell you something that she did near the end of her course. The class had gathered in the room she used for the lectures and she didn't turn up as expected. After about ten minutes one of my inspectors got up to check what had happened to her. She had never been late before. A soon as she had gone to the door, a uniformed policeman went to up her and bowed. It was Miss Adedeyo. She was wearing powered stilts so that she would not be recognised by her height. Her makeup was perfect. She looked like a man until you looked at her very closely. It was a perfect demonstration of her techniques."
Boku was chatting to Martha as George went up to her. Martha
spotted George's small delegation of people and she and Boku turned
George said. "Boku, Superintendent Abdullah, Sergeant Fisher and Mrs. Fisher would like to talk to you. Superintendent, I present Lieutenant Commander Boku Adedeyo and Lieutenant Martha Dawson. Martha was the Spacer who took the actress's place. May I leave you all together now?"
George went back to see how Undepoldus was doing. He was still
in place but attacking some of the new rocks that had been provided
The next section covers the early events in Undepoldus House.
Viewers familiar with this subject may pass on to the following section.
Please select PASS or CONTINUE.