Madame Olatana, Warbut Astrologer, page 19
“How did Clarkl happen to send you to this conference?”
“The Monarchs got together and decided they had to do something to upgrade the food distribution systems on Clarkl,” Wizzent Gerbyal said. “You know what food distribution systems are?”
“I can understand the principle,” Madame Olatana answered.
“Since the Earthlings came to feed us, we have been overwhelmed by product. The Earthlings, not very bright, of course, are good at farming and cooking. They run a number of cafeterias all over our planet, and our poorest natives go there several times each day for meals. I wouldn’t be caught dead in one of those places, but our poor natives have few complaints,” Wizzent Gerbyal told the astrologer.
“So you want to distribute the products of these cafeterias?”
“And the produce from the farms, too,” Wizzent Gerbyal said. “The Earthlings run farms, and they take the vegetables from the farms to these cafeterias. There are always more vegetables than the cafeterias can use, so the Monarchs have to distribute the vegetables to the higher classes. So far, most of the vegetables assigned to the Monarchs for distribution have rotted. No good to anybody,” Wizzent Gerbyal said.
“So this conference was about food distribution?”
“More or less,” Wizzent Gerbyal admitted. “It was about distribution systems, and we learned how they work. It didn’t matter if it was food or hardware.”
“Except that the food had a shorter shelf-life?”
“Exactly. The just-in-time variable is too close to the date of manufacture. That’s what we studied.”
“And how many entities from Clarkl went to this conference?” Madame Olatana asked.
“What do you think we are made of? Money? I was the only entity who could be sent. Anybody could figure that out, based on our gross planetary product,” Wizzent Gerbyal snorted.
“I see. How long did this conference last?”
“Three months. Three months on the craft to get there, three months on Farnoll, and three months on the craft to get back to Clarkl,” Wizzent Gerbyal said.
“So you were gone nine months.”
“Exactly. And that was the problem.”
“How was that a problem?” Madame Olatana wondered.
“Too much time away from my partner, that’s the problem. Fell in love, or thought I did, with one of the speakers at the conference, a female from the planet of Octula,” Wizzent Gerbyal confessed.
“Are you attracted to females?” the astrologer asked.
“Not as a rule, no. My partner is a Seeker, a good sort of entity. Seekers are very intelligent, but they have very little common sense. That’s where I come in.”
“So you bring the practicality to the relationship?” Madame Olatana suggested.
“I do. My partner has had two children with another Seeker, but each of those Seekers has a Batwig partner. Get the best of both types of entities, and the children aren’t left to starve,” Wizzent Gerbyal said.
“But all this was upset by the appearance of this Octulian woman at the conference?”
“We’re not without desires, Madame. Although all Batwigs are sterile, we have sexual inclinations. We have sexual relations with our partners from time to time, even though it never produces a child,” Wizzent Gerbyal admitted.
“I see. And your desires were piqued by this Octulian female, after so long a time from home?”
“Yes. And it wasn’t just so long a time from home. My partner is not very anxious for sexual relations now. We sleep in different beds. In the same room, but in different beds. My interests in sexual relations were much in the distant past, but this encounter on Farnoll brought them into the present,” Wizzent Gerbyal said.
“So what will you do?” Madame Olatana asked. “This woman probably returned to Octula, and you returned to Clarkl.”
“That is true. But another speaker from Octula returned home on the same craft as the woman, and I have been talking with him. A male from Octula, you see. I have been talking with him nearly every day.”
“And what has been the result of these conversations?”
“My partner is suspicious there is another love interest, that’s been the result. She has informed her family, and her family has visited me, asking me about my continual calls on the Universal Message Service, calls which run into serious money. They have told me if I don’t cut back on these expenses, they will terminate their contributions to our household, contributions that are the difference between a comfortable life for our children and my having to eat four meals a day in the Earthlings’ cafeterias,” Wizzent Gerbyal told Madame Olatana.
“And what advice do you need today?” Madame Olatana asked, somewhat at a loss for words.
“I want you to tell me when all this will end! I want my family back, with no changes. I want no interruptions to the funding I receive. I want to forget this female!”
“Why doesn’t it call me?” Danala asked, incredulously as she stared at Brazart over the luncheon table.
“It can’t,” Brazart said sadly, shaking his head. “It just can’t. The partner’s family is making a fuss, and they are apparently calling the tune over there on Clarkl.”
“But what can Wizzent Gerbyal want with me?” Danala went on. “I’m a female from Octula, and it is an androgynous sterile entity from Clarkl. Furthermore, it is clearly chained to this partner, either by its own emotional desires or by money. These attentions are not really amusing since they have been going on, unrelieved by any consummation of this relationship, for over a year.”
“I only have to record a few of our conversations,” Brazart admitted. “The costs of the calls over the Universal Message Service are getting out of hand, and Wizzent Gerbyal just wants me to send it the recordings so it will have something of your voice to play when the mood strikes.”
“This is an invasion of my privacy, as you know,” Danala said, pounding the luncheon table. “Furthermore, a suitor of such a type will make my legitimate suitors look elsewhere. I’m not saying I want this Clarklian to suffer, but I don’t see why my own interests have to be disregarded.”
“It’s just a few conversations,” Brazart went on, a bit ashamedly. “I’ll record them when you least suspect it, and you will appear perfectly natural.”
“So I have lost another friend, have I?” Danala suggested. “I must watch every word, every inflection, every hint. Any person I mention is likely to be subjected to this Clarklian’s questioning. I feel I will soon be the laughingstock of Octula.”
“Nonsense. You have not lost another friend. It’s just a few conversations, and then that fellow will go on to find another object of fascination,” Brazart suggested.
“At least I’m getting older,” Danala sighed. “Surely this preoccupation with everything about me will end when I am forty. Wizzent Gerbyal will find a younger model, and I can go back to being just myself and not the Octulian woman who is the object of an androgynous Clarklian Batwig’s misguided affections.”
“Let’s think of it that way,” Brazart agreed.
“Maybe we should introduce Danala to your colleague Looki,” Imi said to her partner, Brazart.
“I think we should hold off on that for awhile,” Brazart said. “That Clarklian I met on Farnoll is going to leave his partner for Danala.”
“I didn’t know that!” Imi exclaimed. “How wonderful for her! I’ll tell all our friends so they won’t annoy her by setting up various blind dates for her. She ought not to be alone, you know.”
“The Clarklian will be making his move later this month,” Brazart assured Imi.
Ifin picked up the intercom at the astrologer’s office and talked to his employer.
“Wizzent Gerbyal wants another update, Madame,” the receptionist said.
“Is its account paid up?” Madame Olatana asked.
“Made the final payment on the last reading just a week ago,” Ifin answered.
“If the past is any indication of the future, yes,” Ifin agreed.
“Then set it up with something as soon as possible,” Madame Olatana ordered. “I am so tired of all these unbillable calls over the Universal Message Service. Wizzent Gerbyal is a pest, always trying to get service without following any of my recommendations.”
“It is stuck in the past, with hallucinations about a lost love. That’s all I can say,” Madame Olatana replied.
“These affecting planetary influences have moved on,” Madame Olatana told Wizzent Gerbyal as she adjusted her translation cube. “You need to move on, too. There is nothing left of these aspects.”
“But I met this woman only five years ago,” Wizzent Gerbyal insisted. “Surely she still has some feelings for me. True love does not dissipate so quickly.”
Madame Olatana shook her head, but Wizzent Gerbyal was unable to see this because the bare-boned Clarklian connection to the Universal Message Service did not include rapid updates. “I have no indication, either in your words or in the planetary movements, there was anything like a true love on her part,” she said.
“There must have been,” Wizzent Gerbyal pressed. “She smiled at me. We Batwigs are thought to be the most unattractive of the Clarkl entities, and, when somebody smiles at one of us, it can only be because there is a sublime meeting of the souls.”
“Now, Wizzent Gerbyal, you have told me this Octulian woman was presenting something at this conference or seminar. Smiling at the attendees is something a good instructor or presenter has been told to do. It helps to get the message across by making the listener feel he or she or it is a valued colleague.”
“Yes, she smiled, but what a smile!”
“And did she single you out for that smile?” Madame Olatana asked.
“She smiled at everybody at the conference, it is true. But nobody smiles at a Batwig. Not ever.”
“Was she selling something? Perhaps a methodology? Perhaps a distribution system?”
“Well, yes, she was part of the sales team for that distribution system we were evaluating,” Wizzent Gerbyal admitted. “But we couldn’t afford it, not after paying to send me to the conference in Farnoll.”
“But a good sales entity keeps on selling, not knowing when a mark’s fortunes may change,” Madame Olatana continued.
“A mark? Are you saying she was playing with my emotions to make a sale? This cannot be true because we Clarklians are known as shoppers and not buyers.”
“Nevertheless, you need to move on. How many entities have you discussed this attraction with? In total?” Madame Olatana asked.
“Oh, Madame, everything is very discreet. I have told only five or six, in strictest confidence. Nobody will spread a word of this, I am certain,” Wizzent Gerbyal answered.
“Then this matter is common knowledge,” Madame Olatana said with emphasis. “It is probably the subject of continual jollity among your friends and colleagues. It is an open secret, although nobody will discuss it to your face. Your partner probably has to endure snickers behind its back, too.”
“But when will this be over? That’s my question to you?”
“And, Wizzent Gerbyal, I have answered it. This matter has long been over. The planets have moved onto other concerns, but you are stuck in something that happened very quickly over five years ago. You need to let go, realize the good you have in your partnership on Clarkl, and dedicate your energies to being a good parent to your children and a good consort to your Seeker,” Madame Olatana told it.
“But do you think she still remembers me? Do you think she wants me to leave Clarkl to come to her on Octula?”
Ten years, in Earthling terms, had passed since the conference on Farnoll. Octula had grown a bit darker since its star was slowly dimming, but the weekly lunch date between the Octulians Danala and Brazart was rarely canceled.
“And now Wizzent Gerbyal has made a confederate of my other best friend!” Danala cried. “I’m out of people I can trust!”
“It’s harmless,” Brazart insisted. “All smoke and mirrors. All talk and no action.”
“But ten years has made a significant change in Wizzent Gerbyal’s status on Clarkl,” Danala went on. “It is now an assistant to the assistant Monarch. Furthermore, it has attained this status partly because other Clarklians think it is associated with me and with my company. My reputation on Octula has allowed this entity to gain advancement on Clarkl!”
“I have talked to nobody on Clarkl, save for Wizzent Gerbyal,” Brazart stated. “You are making too much of this. Think of it as an interesting episode, one in which an ugly Batwig from Clarkl has become your lifelong admirer.”
“But entities now believe we are a couple!” Danala went on. “I haven’t had a date with an extraterrestrial in seven years! You know how much I like sex with visiting diplomats, but they don’t call me anymore. My dealings with the wealthy males from Farnoll are essentially over, and those are the only ones who are built to scratch me where it itches.”
“This is getting too graphic for my shy, retiring nature,” Brazart muttered.
“Well, ask Imi what I mean,” Danala said, pointing at her best friend. “Long ago, when Octula sent all those spacecraft to unpopulated planets with the idea our species would be able to live on one or more of them, we never had the idea we would turn to those descendants for our entertainment in the future. But nobody makes love like the men from Farnoll.”
“What’s wrong with Octulian men? Just answer me that.”
“Nothing is wrong with Octulian men,” Danala insisted. “They just are built too long and thin. A short, wide member is better for sex, but you can’t find that here.”
“Well, maybe Wizzent Gerbyal has such an endowment,” Brazart suggested.
“Men who talk and don’t act can rarely get it up,” Danala maintained. “I assume it is the same with those sexless creatures on Clarkl.”
“Its Excellency Wizzent Gerbyal has called on the Universal Message Service for its appointment,” Lona told her employer, Madame Olatana.
The astrologer picked up the call, noting that Clarkl still did not subscribe to instantaneous updates of the caller’s face.
“Welcome, Wizzent Gerbyal,” Madame Olatana began. “How is your health these days?”
“It’s Your Excellency, according to the Universal Forms of Address, Madame. And my health remains tenuous, as before,” Wizzent Gerbyal said.
“I regret to hear you are still suffering,” Madame Olatana replied. “What would you like to discuss today, Your Excellency?”
“I’m still bothered by my relationship issues,” Wizzent Gerbyal said. “Only fifteen years have passed since I met the Octulian on Farnoll, and I still have deep feelings for her. Feelings I cannot shake, in spite of my partner’s father’s threats of financial abandonment.”
“But surely you are no longer in need,” Madame Olatana said. “The planets show you are in a comfortable situation there.”
“The planets are wrong, and they can go to the devil,” Wizzent Gerbyal replied. “I had an administrative job that paid a decent wage until the top Monarch decided I should be its Counselor of the Bedchamber. That dubious promotion got me this lifetime title, but it reduced my actual income.”
“And have your expenses increased?”
“I need new clothes all the time, Madame! And the children are starting graduate school, with one of them pressing me for tuition to the California Institute of Technology in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Earth!” Wizzent Gerbyal cried.
“Do you have any ideas yourself about how to resolve your relationship problems, Your Excellency?” Madame Olatana wondered.
“Here’s the idea I want to discuss with you,”
“Can you afford the trip for both of you, Your Excellency?”
“The Monarchs have the money, and I will have to pry it loose. I know a few secrets, as anybody who is in charge of the bedchamber does, and I can use those secrets to get a perquisite or two,” Wizzent Gerbyal said.