I’m serializing my novel Europan Holiday here on my blog, Wattpad, and Leanpub. I plan to post on a Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday schedule until it’s done. Eventually I’ll do a regular print and e-book release once I’m done but this gives me a chance to review the book as I go.
Exposing her delicate five-fingered hand might’ve shocked her brother and the Trinhlin, but it certainly didn’t seem to have bothered Vibeke. She laughed at their apparent surprise and slowly flipped the glove back into place, stroking the fabric back up her arm. It intelligently sealed itself without leaving the visible seam. Except for their faces, the elves were always completely covered from head to toe. They must have a strict nudity taboo.
“I wasn’t trying to shock anyone,” Nick said.
“You didn’t do anything shocking,” Vibeke said. “When the Trinhlin designed us they imbued us with a built-in sense of modesty.”
“Apparently that part was defective in my sister,” Rylick said.
The Trinhlin hooted and waved its arms, making complex signs. Vibeke appeared to listen to the alien and then she translated. “They perceived that this was an important aspect of human life on Earth.”
Nick shrugged. “I think nudity taboos on Earth vary widely, in part depending on how warm or cold it is.”
Then another thought occurred to him, one that was probably just as shocking but he decided to ask anyways. “So I’m not entirely clear yet how human are you? Is it just the physical resemblance? Or do you actually have human DNA?”
“We have human DNA, although the Trinhlin have made a variety of modification and improvements, to meet their own artistic designs.”
Rylick said, “We’re about as closely related to modern humans as you are to the great apes.”
“And it’s okay to call you elves?” Nick said.
“Yes. I think elves is a very apt name, and it’s one that we have used ourselves,” Vibeke said.
Rylick returned to eating, and Nick decided to join in with the rest of the feast. Everyone seemed in particularly good spirits, despite the fact that they were all isolated in the Cottage. Maybe, this is all part of the rebels plan? If so they were doing a good job. The food was fantastic, just as it had been back in the Workshop Palace. Nick enjoyed sampling a variety of dishes, and drinking more of the honey colored liquid in his glass. It didn’t really seem as if it was alcoholic, not that he could tell, but his mood was certainly improving as the evening went on. At one point he located Vibeke again in the crowd, and held up a fresh glass of the beverage.
“Is this stuff alcoholic?”
“Certainly not.” Vibeke shuddered visibly. “Although many of your foods are quite tasty, we haven’t developed the appreciation for fermented beverages. And many of the elves can’t tolerate cheeses either.”
“I seem to be getting particularly happy?” Nick said, sipping the drink.
“ The beverages are designed to stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain,” Vibeke said. “It is perfectly harmless.”
Stimulate the pleasure centers of his brain? That didn’t sound harmless, it actually sounded fairly addictive and could be quite dangerous. It reminded him of stories of wireheads pumping current directly into the pleasure centers of the brain. Although that hadn’t taken off yet on Earth, he always thought that it was merely a matter of time. If someone could find a way to do it noninvasively, without risks of brain surgery, it probably would take off. He carried the glass a couple steps over and placed it on the table. “I think I’ll stick to water from now on.”
Vibeke turned back to one of the elves who seem to be providing service for the party, and asked for water and glasses and ice. The elf, wearing a black and green uniform, nodded quickly and took off through the trees to fetch the water.
“I hope he doesn’t have to go far?” Nick said.
“Not too far,” Vibeke said.
And indeed she must’ve been right because the elf was back only a short time later carrying a tray on which sat a large crystal pitcher like a long fluted vase, and two glasses made from the same material, each full of crushed ice. Vibeke took the tray and thanked the elf who nodded and went off to attend other guests.
Vibeke looked up at Nick and cocked her head. “Let’s go find a more private location,” she suggested. “There is much for us to discuss.”
“Okay,” Nick said. He paused for just a second to grab a couple thick, golden cookies with large chunks of chocolate, and then he followed her off among the fuzzy fan trees. They walked on for a short distance, he could still hear the sounds of the party guests talking in a variety of languages, before they came to a small clearing. There among the fan trees were several boulders, flat topped and arranged in a sort of circle, laid out to provide benches. Vibeke sat on one of the benches, placing the tray beside her, and picked up the pitcher to fill the glasses with water. Nick sat down on the stone on the other side of the tray and accepted the glass when she offered it. He raised it to his lips and then paused and looked down at the clear water.
“Is this water from Europa?”
“Of course,” Vibeke said. “All of our water is purified from the oceans. Where did you think we were getting water from?”
Nick laughed. “Silly, question? Of course I should’ve realized, it just hit me that I’ve been drinking water from another world.”
“Water is water,” Vibeke said. “All of the water on your Earth came from materials that formed the planet, and from comets bombarding the surface. It’s all water that existed in the cloud that formed the solar system. That’s why so many of these worlds are covered in water ices and other gaseous ices.”
“I know that. But there’s a difference between knowing something and feeling it. Up until this moment it hadn’t really sunk in. Before I came here all the water that I ever drank in my life had existed on Earth and had passed through who knows how many organisms before I drank it. And most of the time it wasn’t distilled water. It was water teeming with microorganisms and minerals that are unique to Earth.”
“Maybe not as unique as you might think,” Vibeke said.
“What does that mean?”
“Life in the solar system has a shared origin. We are all related.”
Nick considered what she was telling him. Was it possible that the Trinhlin actually knew this is the fact? There were so many questions that they could answer. But he couldn’t start thinking of them as all-knowing. After all these were the same people who had abducted him and his space cabin and carried them here to Europa, when neither his space cabin for his spacesuit were really designed to function in space.
“What did you want to talk about?”
Vibeke raised her glass and took a sip. Her eyes were studying his face. “How many different ways have people on your planet imagined first contact?”
Nick laughed. “I couldn’t possibly begin to tell you the answer. I don’t know. A lot. There are new stories that come out every year imagining what it would be like to meet aliens, and I’ve read a lot of them. I never imagined it would be exactly like this, but then again each novel, each story proposes a different scenario.”
“I know. We’ve studied many of the stories, and typically they result in conflict. You seem incapable of imagining contact with other species without it becoming some form of conflict. Even when you imagine yourselves as noble, and avoiding less advanced cultures so as not to interfere, conflict still results. It was because of this that we came up with the Christmas Gambit.”
Nick said, “It was your plan to have Saint Nick be your ambassador?”
“How did you know?” Vibeke’s eyes widened and she leaned back, her expression one of astonishment.
“You’d pretty much already told me,” Nick said. “That whole business about me being Saint Nick and that it was foretold, and all the rest of this. The Trinhlin didn’t think that humanity would accept them. So they created the Santa Claus, and his elves, and modified their scouts to look more like reindeers, although they still have those big flippers. Plus they built the Workshop Palace and even the habitat’s artificial sun is at the top – or is that bottom? – of an upside down Christmas tree. Pretty obvious what you were trying to do.”
“It wasn’t meant to be deceitful,” Vibeke said. “We didn’t expect anyone to believe that we really were Santa Claus, or elves, or reindeer. It was simply thought that humanity might be more accepting of us if we presented ourselves in familiar terms, coming as guests.”
Nick shook his head. “You didn’t do enough research. We tend to be wary of strangers bearing gifts, and get even more suspicious when the strangers try to pass themselves off as somebody else. Not to mention the fact that large populations on earth don’t tell Santa Claus stories and aren’t people who celebrate that holiday.”
Vibeke stood up. “Those arguments were made. Some of us argued that we should come with clearly superior technology, and win you over that way. Others thought that would appear too threatening. And some of us believe that we needed a human ambassador, someone who could act as a go-between, and point out to us when things weren’t going to work the way we expected.”
“That was your idea?”
“Not just my idea. For once we weren’t coming to any kind of consensus. I thought once I brought you here, they would see the value in having you serve as our Saint. With you in the role, you could reach out to the people on earth and help smooth over the introductions.”
“That didn’t work out so well did it?”
Vibeke shook her head. “No, it didn’t, but we haven’t given up. They can’t really keep us here, after all.”
Nick rolled the glass of ice water between his hands and shivered. She was expecting quite a lot out of him. They wanted him to serve as ambassador between the Trinhlin and humans on Earth? He was just a guy with a blog. Someone who lived a simple life outside the mainstream, not someone that had a lot of ambition. At least that’s what Carol always said. It was one of the things that had contributed to their divorce. She always wanted him to do so much more, and seem to hold it against him when he didn’t have the success that she thought he should. She wanted everything bigger, when he wanted it simpler.
When they first met he had big dreams of doing science, discovering new things, and possibly even going out into space and then none of that happened. After that she thought he would get some commercial job making six figures, and they would have kids, and all the latest of everything. None of that had ever interested him. Instead he wanted to minimize expenses and live simply. He thought that the constant pursuit of more and more stuff was the contributing factor the problems faced in their country, from poverty and wealth inequality, all the way up to a misguided space program. That was another thing she had never understood, how having a national space program doing exciting science and exploring new worlds actually helped everyone. There were casinos being built for a couple billion dollars, and she didn’t see anything wrong with that.
The Trinhlin and elves might not have a consensus, but they were a lot closer than humanity.