Your appointments for today are:- 09.30 Briefing by the President's Private Secretary. 12.30 Lunch with the President. 14.15 Meeting with the new Ambassador. 18.15 Report to Minister for External Affairs. 19.30 Dinner with the President's Private Secretary. 21.00 Informal report to the President. 22.30 No further appointments. "Thank you. That will be all for now. I will call you again at 22.30."
So it went. My diary was filled with immaculate precision - leaving me with just enough time to complain about it. Another morning would be wasted listening to that oily shoe-horner telling me what I should do and not do - with the President and the New Ambassador. As there was no way I could change the arrangements, I had to go through the motions of listening and making the appropriate comments, just to keep up appearances. Diplomacy, diplomacy. One only needs it with politicians, never with real diplomats.
Diplomats always want to know what you really think: Will you buy or will you sell? Will you help or not? Do you care or don't you? They like yes or no equally. They do not dislike If A then B, but they hate We would like....". Diplomats know that antagonism seldom wins and co-operation is usually fruitful.
The meeting with the P.P.S. was as oily and useless as I expected. I suppose the President keeps him on because he likes to feel important. I'm sure that he likes the P.P.S. just as much as I do.
The President spent most of the time talking about the forthcoming elections. As there isn't anywhere higher for him to go, he is determined to hang on to what he has, until he is forced to leave office. He did mention the new ambassador. He regretted that there was no way that ambassadors could be put on the voters' roll.
The visit to the Embassy was the high point in the day. I got on with the new representative right from the beginning. One day I will have a foreign post, and I know how I would like to be treated when making my first contacts, so I treated him accordingly. The new Ambassador had brought a small selection of gifts as was customary and polite. The accommodation provided in the Embassy was approved of, and goodwill wishes were expressed on both sides. Unfortunately an interpreter was needed at first, making conversation slow and long-winded, but later, we began to communicate directly, and gossip about our respective governments.
Harry Luboff showed me recordings of his home and a selection of his favourite entertainments. He said that they were typical examples of their type.
I sent messages to the P.P.S., cancelling the rest of my appointments for the day, implying that protocol required that I should stay with the new ambassador as long as possible. As my government's sole resident ambassador I knew I could get away with it - without undesirable consequences.
As my main interest is in the history and structures of other societies, I was delighted when Harry explained his relationship with his partner Shelley-Anne and showed me excerpts from the archives of his people. I was particularly interested in some of the inventions he was familiar with, which I hadn't heard of before. Equally, he and Shelly-Anne wanted to know more about me, my world and the Embassy.
I told them that the Embassy was centuries old and had started out with a completely different purpose. Originally, it was a place where samples of animals and plants were kept for the education of the general public and for scientific study. Each plant and animal had to be maintained in a copy of its own environment to ensure its survival. When the first space explorers returned, they brought back samples of the lifeforms from the planets they visited. As a result, the range of environments required was expanded.
The major advance came when gravity control had been mastered. It had a twofold effect: Firstly, it enabled an environment from another planet to be duplicated exactly, and secondly, it enabled sentients from other planets to visit us and stay in a place which was tailored to their requirements. Soon, there were a number of sentients who took advantage of these arrangements to establish embassies here. They were, in general, happy to let our people study their ways, in the same manner as we had studied non-sentients previously.
(I increased the familiarity level at this point because it seemed appropriate.)
"This is why you may hear this site referred to as The Zoo".
"With expanding contacts throughout the galaxy we have all come up against the same problem. There is no way to establish regular and sensible communications between the widely separated members of the galactic community - because of the distances and time involved. In fact it is true to say that many sentients could never visit their furthest neighbours within their normal lifespans."
They murmured agreement.
"I believe your society pioneered the techniques that enabled sentients to survive the long journeys without ageing - possibly because your lifespan is longer than most. You are our newest ambassadors, and we are honoured that you have chosen to come to stay with us. I understand that your day length is much longer than ours; a day for us is only a few hours for you. I must retire soon to rest, But you are welcome to make the acquaintance of all the other ambassadors who live here.
You have been provided with a transport vehicle which can duplicate your natural environment for one of your days - whenever you use it. Each vehicle can link with another to create the illusion that you, and whoever you link with, are sharing the same room - just as you and I are doing at this moment. Now I must say goodbye for today. I look forward to meeting you again soon."
"Thank you for the time and trouble you have taken on our behalf, Be-Elzi-zz, We will, like all the other ambassadors who have come to stay here, be happy to spend the rest of our lives here."
The following remarks were recorded after my departure.
"Shelley-Anne, I guess that the Old Timers were right about what he would look like - the horns and the tail and so on - but they got his name a bit wrong though - I kept on wanting to say Be-Elzi-Bub. You now, I never thought it could be as nice as this in Hell."
Copyright (C) W. H. James 23/10/1985 Revised 15/5/91 and 02/12/98 (1076 words) .
Wilf James,106 Jarden, Letchworth, Herts. SG6 2NZ, UK. E-mail wilf dot james at ntlworld dot com This version of my email address is to beat spammer's robots.
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