©Conrad Muller 2005
It was very hard walking through the forest, but finding this developed path where no path should be scares me. I wish Mom and Dad were here. Ingrid keeps stopping. We are both so tired. I wish I could find a safe place to stop and sleep. I wish I knew who made this path. I wish I knew whether we are headed toward them or away from them. If I wasn't so tired and scared, I think I would laugh at how many "wishes" I have.
"I need to pee."
"OK, lets just step off of the path."
"Bonnie, what is that building?"
I look up in surprise from watching Ingrid get her pants down, to see a large white dome through the trees. Maybe it's a research station, but I really don't think there is a research station anywhere near here. Any way, it's a very big building, not at all like any research station I've ever seen. And I've seen a lot of them traveling with Mom and Dad.
Ingrid finishes, and we cut through the trees to the dome. I don't see a door, or any windows. From here I don't even see any vents. Maybe the door is on the other side where the path is. I guess we'd better walk around.
Well, there is a big double glass door. But nobody is in sight. I guess we better go inside and try to find somebody, if the door isn't locked.
The door isn't locked, but there is another set of glass doors inside of that. So I push the other door open, and step part way in. There are no lights. Maybe no one is home. But there is movement. Then I hear some clicks and pops. Bugs! Here!
I run in with Ingrid right behind and hug the Bug. Then I try some clicks and pops of my own. The Bug almost falls over in surprise. I laugh.
The Bug starts making very load clicks and pops. I guess it's yelling to its friends. Soon there is a crowd of Bugs. I can't tell how many because it's pretty dark in here. My eyes are adjusting, but the only light is coming through two sets of glass doors. The Bugs try to take us into the building, but Ingrid won't go. It's too dark. I try to explain to the Bugs, but they don't seem to understand me. Ingrid drops down by the door, and seems to fall asleep immediately.
I go and sit down by Ingrid. The Bugs watch for a while, then all but one leave. Now I can tell we are in some kind of lobby, except there is no furniture. I wish I had a blanket, it's air conditioned in here, but I don't want to go back outside. I snuggle up to Ingrid to keep warm. I guess I will stay awake, no, I guess I won't. My last impression is of a Bug putting a blanket over us.
I wake up hungry. Ingrid must have felt me move, because she sits up and says "I'm hungry." I guess that makes it unanimous. A Bug comes in and looks at us. I guess it wonders what we want. I try some more clicks and pops, but these Bugs must just not be used to how humans click and pop.
The Bug turns around and ducks back into the inside doorway without a sound. It's back in a few seconds with a plastic bucket. I didn't know Bugs had plastic buckets! The Bug sets the bucket near the door, and points to where Ingrid is holding her crotch, and then points at the bucket. Ingrid does not need a second invitation, she immediately drops her pants and sits on the bucket. I was planning on going outside, but when I look out, it's poring down rain. I guess I'll use the bucket, too.
Then a couple of more Bugs bring us some fruit, and something like oatmeal. There is no sugar for the oatmeal, and no spoon, but right now I am not very fussy. We say thank you to the bugs, both in English, and in clicks and pops. The Bugs look surprised again. Maybe we said thank you well enough for them to understand.
After we eat, there is another bucket of clean water to wash with. The water is even warm. But that gives me an idea. I decide to go out in the rain and wash off. Ingrid wants to play in the rain, too. So we strip, and run out in the rain. We come back inside, and seem to dry off really quickly. I guess the Bugs keep it dry in here. I hate to put my dirty clothes back on, but they are all I have.
Now that I have slept and eaten, and I'm not so scared, I start thinking about getting home. I guess people will be looking for us. I'm not sure they will know where to look. If they fly over, they will be sure to see this big white dome. But, of course, it's raining hard. They won't be flying in this weather.
I am bored, so I look around the room. Our blanket from last night is a stiff and smooth fabric that looks like a farm machinery cover. I guess Bugs don't have real blankets. There is nothing else in the room. The Bugs in Commerce sit in human furniture, but that might be just for our benefit. Maybe Bugs don't usually use furniture.
Suddenly there is a regular parade of bugs headed out the door. Some are carrying more tarps like the one we slept under, some are carrying tools, and finally, the last ones bring a set of glass doors through our "lobby" and outside. I stick my head out the door to see what they are doing.
The first group is rigging the tarp to be a shelter from the rain, against the side of the dome. As I watch, another group measures, and then cuts a big hole in the dome where it's sheltered by the tarp. I get it! They are installing a new set of outside doors. Instead of moving us, they are building a new lobby. This is too much. I expected hospitality from Bugs, but this is just too much!
The Grand Tour
A Bug shows up holding a glowing ball. It looks a bit like a regular light, but there are no wires, and it's glowing all over. I don't see any place to put batteries in. Well, however it works, it seems to be the Bug's idea of a flashlight. The Bug holds the glowball into the dark doorway, and waves for us to follow. Ingrid is through the doorway before I can even start moving.
"We're going to get a tour!" Ingrid shouts.
The glowball is throwing soft shadows on plain gray walls as we walk down a corridor. There are doorways on both sides. Most doorways don't have doors. We can see Bugs through the open doorways. Some seem to be sleeping, some seem to be chatting. A few seem to be working at computers, they have helmets over their heads and their hands are in control-mitts. I would guess they are controlling machinery someplace else. My uncle Joe does that. Many of the rooms are dark, some have glowballs, some have a little light from the equipment that is in use. Almost none of the rooms have furniture.
We turn left down a cross-corridor, and enter a very large room. The room is lit by a few glowballs on the ceiling. Ingrid shouts "Kids!"
Well, at least they are kid size Bugs. Ingrid is already headed for what looks like a climbing structure. I guess we'll get to see how Bugs and monkeys compare as climbers. Ingrid is more of a monkey than most humans. I think she'll do fine. I hope the Bug kids can handle her out-front personality.
I look around, and our guide with the glowball is gone. I'm not worried about the Glowball. I can easily find my way out to the lobby. We just came straight in and turned left once. A small Bug, but taller than I am, walks up to me and holds out a hand.
I suddenly realize how different our hands are, but I have never heard a Bug's hand referred to as a claw. I guess a Bug's hand is no more a claw than my hand is a paw. OK, back to the present.
I guess my new friend wants to show me something, so I take its hand and we go over to the other side of the big room. The kids over here are bigger than the ones Ingrid is playing with, shorter than adults, but much taller than I am. Some of them are playing a game with colored sticks and squares painted on the floor. It looks like multi-player Go or checkers. Maybe I'll get to learn it. The kids who are playing sure are absorbed. They don't even look around when I walk right by.
There is a row of computer screens along the wall. Now we are getting somewhere! I like computers! It takes a while to figure out how the keyboard works, and my fingers are the wrong shape anyway. I don't see a pointing device, either. Then my new friend shows me how to talk to the computer by small movements of the head. Well, at least it works for Bugs.
Suddenly an adult shows up. My friend clicks and pops a bit. The adult picks my hand up and looks at it. Then it turns my head back and forth and looks long and hard at my eyes. Then the adult clicks and pops into the air, into an intercom, I guess, and leaves.
We are disappointed, but we find some gym equipment, and I use one of the exercise machines as a backward rowing machine. Some of the kids stop and stare. One of them shows me how they use it, and I show them why I don't do it that way. Ingrid shows up holding her crotch, and I realize it must be lunchtime. I don't know when Bugs eat, but I want to eat now. Also, Ingrid and I need a bathroom. I try to pantomime going to the bathroom. I can't believe I'm doing this!
My friend takes me over to an alcove. I guess it's a Bug bathroom, but it smells funny, and I don't see anything resembling a potty. All of a sudden, an adult shows up with our bucket. I think it's the same bucket, but it's clean. I set the bucket back in the alcove, kind of out of sight, and let Ingrid go first. When we are done, the adult dumps and washes the bucket. So that is how the sink works!
When we get back out of the alcove, a snack is being served. Yes, food! These are my kind of Bugs. The snack is all vegetarian; it looks a lot like our breakfast this morning. I recognize some of the fruits and vegetables, and there is more of the "oatmeal". I mostly eat the things I recognize, but try some new things, too. Some are good, others I will not try again. Urged by her new friends, Ingrid is more adventuresome with her eating than I am. The older kids seem to take care of the younger ones, just like I take care of Ingrid. The Bugs don't drink with their meal, so Ingrid and I go back to the bathroom, and take a drink at the sink.
I notice that Ingrid is already clicking and popping with her new friends. I wish I could make friends as fast as she does, and I wish I could learn to click and pop the way she does.
After lunch we all go to the other side of the big room, and go through a door I hadn't paid much attention to. It leads directly to the new lobby and to the outside doors. It has stopped raining, and we are going out to play. Suddenly, a bunch of Bug kids, older than the ones I have been with, show up, and they are carrying balls, and jump ropes (I think), and all sorts of other outside toys. I guess the big kids are our playground supervisors.
I hadn't really noticed yesterday, but the area in front of the doors is a big field. Cleared and leveled for a playground, I guess. Anyway, it's a playground this afternoon.
It's still very cloudy, so we won't be found from the air today. I get totally distracted playing with my new friends. Suddenly, the day is over, and it's time to go inside. It suddenly hits me that I am far from home, and far from my family, and for a moment, I almost cry.
We all go inside again, and eat more veggies. Then a few of our friends walk us back to our lobby. While we were gone someone has brought a mattress, some kind of foam in a plastic cover, and another "blanket." Our bucket is back, too.
It's pretty early, but there is nothing to do, so Ingrid and I fall asleep after talking for just a few minutes. When we wake up in the morning, light is poring in the door. It's sunny! Our parents and their friends will be able to search by air!
We run outside, but there are no signs of a plane. Some of our friends come out through our lobby, and ask us to come in to eat. Well, I could understand that, so I guess I am learning some Bug. We try to explain that a plane might be coming for us, and they say yes, someone will be watching. After we eat, the younger kids go somewhere. For classes I suppose. Ingrid doesn't get to go along. Some of the kids my age are busy with what I take to be science and math projects. Some are working on the computers, possibly on language skills or history. They have "headphones" on, and are very absorbed.
An adult comes and gets me and takes me to a computer at one end of the computer area. There is a keyboard I can use. It's almost like theirs, but it has bigger buttons that stick up. I am also given a band of plastic to put around my head. Great! Now when I move my head, things change on the screen.
My friend taps on the keyboard, and a simple manual skills video game pops onto the screen. Now I can play the game using the headband. Cool, now we are getting somewhere!
Suddenly, an adult comes in chirping. This gets everyone's attention in about a quarter of a second. Then it makes a few clicks and pops. Ingrid runs to the door shouting "Mama, Papa!" I am right behind. All of us run out the door, and there is a small plane with a man and a Bug climbing out of it, and other Bugs gathering at a short distance. Ingrid stops and stares at the strange man, and all of our friends pile up around us.
The man looks a bit surprised to see us. I'm surprised that I feel more reluctant to approach a strange man than a strange Bug. On the other hand, it does seem like a good survival reflex. I push by my friends, and with Ingrid in tow, I walk up to the man and say "Hi, I'm Bonnie Miamora." I don't say anything to the Bug, who is studiously looking the other way.
The man says "Yes, I figured that out. This is all being broadcast, would you like to talk to your folks?"
"Sure, can I use your phone so it's not so public?"
He waves toward the plane, so I climb in and call. My Dad answers on the first ring. "Hi Bonnie, we're watching you on the broadcast. It looks like you have some new friends."
"Hi Dad, it's so good to hear you. Everyone here has been great. Is Mom there?"
"Sure, here she is."
"Hi honey, are you two alright?"
"We're fine. Ingrid is climbing all over me to get to the phone. Here she is."
I wonder if the plane can really take off from this little field? I see the man and the Bug are talking to some of the adults Bugs. One of the Bugs talks into the air, and invites everyone back inside. I am walking beside the Bug who came from Commerce. He must be the pilot. I wonder if he thought he might find these other Bugs when he started the search? He doesn't seem very pleased.
He used to visit our school a lot, that's why we know so much about Bugs. I couldn't say his name right before, but now I realize it's the same as the name of one of my new friends, so I thank him for finding us, using his name, all in clicks and pops. He whirls around so fast that I almost jump back. Then he starts clicking and popping so fast I can't make out a thing. One of my friends says something to him, and he stops. He takes out a hand computer and says "Sorry, I was surprised."
Then he starts talking to the kids, and it seems like he broke through some great unhappy emotion. I don't know why he was angry or afraid. I hope I can find out some day, but right now, I am just happy he is OK.
Wow, it must be lunchtime, or these Bugs have the same philosophy about feeding visitors that my mother does. Mother! I left Ingrid in the plane talking to mother! I'm going back, no I'm not. Here comes Ingrid with a big smile on her face.
"We can stay. Mom and Dad are coming here to visit." Ingrid says.
"Don't you want to go home?"
"Sure, but not yet. We just got here."
That's my Ingrid.
Ambassadors at Large
We spent the rest of the day with our friends. Ingrid and I got to phone Mom and Dad again before bedtime. The pilot brought us a sleeping bag. With a mattress and a sleeping bag, Ingrid and I are sleeping in the lap of luxury. The pilot is sleeping in the lobby, too. I am surprised. I thought he would sleep inside since he is a Bug. The man who was helping search is an anthropologist, and he says he loves the chance to get to know the Bugs. He is sleeping in the plane so he can hear the phone if anyone calls.
After breakfast, we all go outside. I guess we are the cause of a school holiday. The plane has been moved closer to the dome. I think they are making room for Mom and Dad's plane to land. Suddenly a big shiny red machine rolls into the field. The kids all chirp. I think it's a cheer, so I cheer, too. The machine rolls over to the far side of the field, and starts cutting, trimming, and stacking trees. Machines like small tractors with trailers come with two or three Bugs on board, and take the logs away. Now I know where the logs came from to make the bridges on the trail.
I try to explain about the bridges to my friend, and get towed around to where the section of the dome was dumped after cutting it out for the new doors. I look at the edge, and see that it's a layered composite. It looks like layers of paper. Boy, this huge dome is made out of paper! Boy could we use some domes like this back in Commerce. I bet it takes a lot of logs to make a dome like this one.
I can see now that the big machine is making a clear strip out from the field into the forest. Of course! It's making a runway! The big machine is low, and doesn't have any windows. I think it must be like the big autonomous tractors back home. I ask the pilot, and he says yes, but this machine is smarter. On the other hand, they only have one machine. They brought it with them, and can't build more, at least not yet. Our tractors are built on Home, and more are built every year.
My mind is whirring with plans. What if Bug technology could make our tractors smarter, and we could give the Bugs some of the tractors? What if the Bugs could build us paper domes to relieve our building crunch, and we could build them airplanes? What if we could work together with the Bugs to maintain both of our cultures?
Then I think, what if the Bugs don't want our help? What if they have everything they need? Well, I know one thing neither of us will have for a long time without the other, the stars.
I go and ask the pilot if he would translate, and he says sure. I want to talk to my friend. I would be too nervous to talk to an adult. We start by discussing what we want. After all, by the time all of this gets straightened out, we kids will be grown up and inherit all of the results of the decisions made this week.
I really hit it on the head with my thought about the stars. All of the kids, well most of them, are space junkies. They read about astronomy, history of space travel, cosmology, and anything else about space. They even like science fiction. Wow! There is an amateur rocket group, even though their ships don't use rocket propulsion any more. We have an amateur rocket club at my school, too.
I ask them about the big machine, and find out that robotics is as popular with them as it is with the kids in my school. Boy, the grownups better look out. We kids are going to go to the stars whether the grownups go with us or not.
I ask how many Bugs there are. The pilot says he has already asked that question. There are about ten thousand adults, and almost two thousand children born here on Home. I say that I haven't seen two thousand children, and he says "They don't all live here."
That makes sense. After all, the big machine, and even the small tractors came from somewhere else. I would guess that there are only two hundred kids here. Does that mean there are nine more Bug communities like this somewhere around here?
"Ask if they like living here, or would they like to move closer to us?"
The answer is that the Bugs knew we were on Home, and decided to give us lots of room to reduce the chances of conflict. They would really rather live in the areas where humans already live.
"Then why did they come to Home? They have a colony world of their own."
The pilot already had asked about that, too. After all, he had been on the same ship. He had expected to wake up in a colony on a different planet, in another star cluster. It was quite a shock to find himself in a piece of wreckage in a wood on Home. The tunnel from the Bug home world to their colony had closed while the colony ship was still boosting to enter the tunnel. They couldn't turn back for political reasons, so they did a dangerous course change and entered the tunnel from their world to Home. The trip turned out to be uneventful, as far as breakout from the tunnel.
Then they had to ferry everyone, and all of the gear, planet side in small batches, to keep the humans from detecting them. Turning a few big reentry vehicles into a swarm of small ones was almost more than they could do. There were lots of stories of heroism, and a few stories of tragedy from that time, but most of the Bug colonists made it to Home.
The whole process of landing all of the colonists and their equipment took several years. Our pilot was in one of the last loads, and one of the few that didn't make it. Everyone here is surprised that anyone in his load lived. Most of the colonists, like the pilot of the plane, were in suspension through the whole trip, and didn't know what had happened until someone told them after they woke up on home.
I hear another plane! Ingrid is back inside with her friends. I'd better go get her. Oh, here she comes; someone must have already called her. I turn to see that the plane is gliding right over the big red machine. It touches down on the edge of the field, and rolls to a stop. Someone is holding Ingrid until the plane stops. The plane's prop stops turning, and I run with Ingrid right behind me. People are getting out of the plane.
"Mama, Papa!" We both yell.
Then there is hugging, kissing, all talking at once. You know, the usual. After awhile I catch my breath, and it occurs to me to wonder what this family reunion looks like to the Bugs.
Next: Chapter 4, Bar Talk
All of Conrad Muller's work on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.