The Vacuum-Tight Suitcase
Excerpts from The Vacuum-Tight Suitcase by K. Joan Durrell
On Hellene:Hellene is a world in itself, if you'll forgive the expression. All other colonies have small and fairly homogeneous populations; Hellene's population is small compared to Earth's, but twice that of any other colony world, and it is anything but homogeneous. There is no summary description of Hellene, any more than there is of Earth.
But let's pick Pericles, the capital, as a starting point. That is probably the first part of Hellene you will see, since it has the largest spaceport. The city of Pericles occupies one third of the island of Pericles; the other two thirds is a nature reserve and military training ground. At the center of Pericles is the famous Forum, a great rectangle of parkland, bigger than Hyde Park in London, with the World Parliament at one end and the Coliseum at the other. Battles have been fought here, and the place is studded with little statues and brass plaques.
You find as great a mix of humanity in Pericles as anywhere in Terran space -- and not just humanity, but every form of Terran intelligence, neo-beast and AI as well. Whoever and whatever they are, they are a busy lot. Pericles is a center of trade as well as politics. The spaceport is by the harbor, and a great warehouse district sprawls around both of them. There are cheap and colorful little bistros, shops, and inns tucked at the edges of this district. Every possible ethnic strain and blend is represented. You might like to stay there, for the ambience and the economy. But leave your valuables behind, and be prepared to show your papers to the trios of police, star marshals, and shore patrol. Concealed stunners are quite legal.
Further in shore, things are much more civilized, and the general tone rises. Pericles is also a center of tourism, even among the Hellenics themselves. In 2115, the planetary government staged a Hellenic World's Fair on Pericles and invited ("dared" might be a better word) all the enclaves to build monuments and exhibition halls, advertizing themselves to each other and the rest of Earth's children. The result was an excellent crop of sights -- the Gallerie de la Haute France, the Shi'ite and Sunnite mosques (out of sight and muzzein-shout of each other), the Shrine of Mary, Queen of Heaven, Dixie's Arch of Independence, the Neonesian Anthropology Museum,...
If you don't want to spend the entire visit in Pericles, pick one to three enclaves and visit them. If you can afford the time and the ticket, take an ocean cruise. A Hellenic cruise is like and unlike an Earthly one. The Hellenes have caught up with Earth in the manufacture of passenger liners; the Queen of Albion was built by the same firm that built the Queen Diana and is just as luxurious.
But even if you can't afford a big liner, there are many smaller ships available. Furthermore, these small passenger ships usually travel in convoy with traders and a mix of hired gunboats and government destroyers and subs. These form a transient floating community, with plenty of visiting and shopping between craft. In many ways, I prefer it to the tedious stateliness and staged frivolity of the big liners.
And occasionally, a big liner will join such a convoy, rather than hire its own gunboats. If they choose to go slumming in this fashion, they generally agree to open the liner's shops and restaurants to the rest of the convoy. So you get the best of both worlds. ...
You will have noticed a distinct military presence in my narrative. No surprise, when Hellene is far and away the most turbulent colony, and arguably the most turbulent place in Terran space. Pericles is girded about with shore and island fortresses, submarine bases, and ever-vigilant patrols. Fort Kali hangs overhead in synchronous orbit, guiding flocks of orbital patrol craft, and sky-marshal aerostats hang in the stratosphere, watching.
Everyone knows that Hellene's history has been turbulent despite its brevity. What you may not know is how much of the turbulence continues. As of this writing, there are no "wars" on Hellene, but there is always plenty of piracy and smuggling, by space, air, and sea, in addition to the "registered conflicts." A lot of it is the natural consequence of a community that is loosely regulated, highly mobile and, (for a colony) wealthy. Some of it is privateering -- a covert way to continue war on enemy states when the planetary government is strong enough to prevent open warfare. It is, of course, impossible to judge the proportion of privateering to true piracy.
If there is a unifying principle for Hellene, it is disunity and divisiveness. The planetary government's theory is that this should take the form of a mutually enriching pluralism, and it does to some degree. But it also takes the form of plain old scrapping, with each other and with Pericles.
When the islands of Hellene were passed out as enclaves, UE took care to separate traditional enemies. But high-speed transportation and human cussedness have kept the old hatreds alive, and offered scope for new ones. The most universally hated enclave is, of course, Pericles itself. Hence the never-relaxing vigilance of the military.
The individual enclaves differ wildly among themselves. Of course; it's a matter of principle and national pride. Some are more friendly to tourists than others, roughly in parallel with the hospitality of their parent cultures on Earth. Folk in the port cities are, naturally, more geared to receive tourists.
Each enclave has something different to offer. But one feature is common to all -- a carefully observed calendar of local festivals, celebrated with patriotic zeal. The travel agencies have taken care to plan tours that intercept as many festivals as possible.
Hellene enjoys a nearly uniform climate, with little seasonal change. Its axial tilt is actually greater than Earth's, but it has more oceans and the land is broken up into many islands and archipelagoes. The resulting free circulation evens out the temperatures. This is well, since Hellene does not receive quite as much sunlight as Earth does. In those ages when Earth had freely circulating oceans and uniform climate, it was subtropical; Hellene is temperate.
Since seasons are readily ignored, many enclaves have contrived calendars to keep their holidays and festivals as parallel as possible to those of the ancestral cultures on Earth. Since the day has 26 hours, they have had to reduce the number of days in the calendrical year and month.
The many islands have produced a huge variety of lifeforms. This is a political problem, since an enclave may want to expand at the expense of some rare species's habitat. The planetary charter expressly forbids any extinction of native species, however. As a result, several enclaves have had to sponsor trips back into the past, to re-stock species accidentally wiped out -- one of the most open uses of time-travel in Terran Space.
There are three kind of warm-blooded animals on Hellene. One has fur and looks a lot like an Earthly mammal, in many cases. Another has feathers and wings, but no beaks, and so looks like birds with mammalian heads. The third just has leathery skin, but sometimes has beaks.
Hellenic fish all breathe out through a line of spiracles along their sides, and their land-living descendants retain that feature, exhaling through rows of slits between their ribs. This is much more efficient and picking up oxygen, and also lends itself to amphibianism -- lots of Hellene animals breathe both water and air.
The most famous Hellenic amphibians are the water cattle -- dark gray herd animals, with the bulk and faces of oxen, three horns, heavy tails like dinosaurs, otter-like fur, and elephantine feet. When a herd has exhausted the grazing on one island, they plunge into the sea and walk across the bottom to the next island on their circuit. The horns are mostly used for fending off aquatic predators, most notably the Hellene orca -- black and white like its Terran namesake, but fur-bearing and water-breathing.
The most famous "orn" (feathered animal) is the Hellene pegasus. It looks like a long-legged bird the size of a chicken, with feathered legs and a head like a miniature horse's. It eats grains and berries in brush and tall grass. Its natural coloring is khaki green with a white underside, but breeders and gene-toolers have produced a wide variety of colors and patterns. The pegasus has a smaller relative, called the peryton, and a larger one, called a shantak, but these have note become popular pets.
Other well-known orns are the sky-kitten and the poppycock. Sky-kittens are green and blue wren-like creatures, with heads like those of miniature cats. They eat insectiles. Poppycocks have foxy heads and stout, grouse-like bodies. They hide in tall grass and wait for prey to fly over, then burst up from cover to nab it.
There are amphibious orns, too, such as the various species of "eiderseals," and the "sea-martlets," who fly and swim but never set foot on land, having no feet.
The most famous of the bare-skinned animals ("hereptids") is the warg or vulp. They are basically the size and shape of a wolf, though somewhat stockier. They have heavy, crocodilian tails, and great, crow-like beaks. The natural color of their hide is dark blue, but domesticated ones come in a range of blues, greens, and violets. They are, in habit, very like dogs. They domesticated readily and can even form mixed packs with dogs, as many pet-owners through Terran Space have discovered.
In keeping with its rich cultural mix, Hellene has more than the usual number of rumors about undiscovered intelligent natives. These rumors include:
Sea Folk -- a supposed race of intelligent delphinids with a secret submarine civilization. They are supposed to breathe water, be responsible for mysterious lights seen beneath the sea, and to perhaps be unaware of us, just as we are of them.
Wheezers -- nocturnal creatures, ape-like or australopithecine. They speak or call through their spiracles, making wheezing, accordion-like noises, and cause furtive poltergeist activity in rural areas.
Otter Folk -- said to look like very large otters with fluked tails. They haunt shores, and are sometimes surprised around camp fires. Sharp rocks found on the shore are sometimes supposed to be their stone-age tools. There are fluked otter-like animals on Hellene, but these real ones are smaller than the otter folk and are definitely not intelligent.
Coonies -- described as raccoon-like, but with a mischievous intelligence. They are accused of rural poltergeistery, like the wheezers, but in different enclaves. There's a good chance they are Terran raccoons, already equipped with mischief and carelessly introduced to Hellene.
I suppose this is the place to mention Earthly fays. Many Hellenics believe the Fair Folk (whatever version they believe in, or pretend to believe in) came with them from Earth. But of course, these tales are part and parcel of the deliberate primitivism of many Hellene enclaves, not examples of the undiscovered-natives legend.
Hellene vegetation looks fairly Earthly at first glance. It's green. The "flowers" are composed of hairlike structures, though, not modified leaves. As a result, they are colorful compositions of bristles, tassles, puffs, pom-poms, and so on. They offer sugary pollen, not nectar, and are served by Hellene's bat-winged insectiles.
The trees look less Earthly, on a second glance. Earthly trees have trunks that are roughly circular in cross-section; Hellenic trees may have a U-shaped cross-section, like a celery stalk, or a plus-shaped one, or even one like an I-beam. This lets them grow faster or taller than they otherwise would.
One curious example is the Europinic Oak or Hellenic Baobab. From a distance, it looks like a squart lump with an inadequate crown of leaves. Up close, you see that the lumpish trunk is really a spiral wall. Rich ecologies live in that spiral chamber.
The other alien thing about the trees is their hide. It's leathery, and in many species it's covered with a fur-like pelt of spore-stalks -- primitive versions of flowers. The pelts vary greatly in color, pattern, and texture, from species to species. These skins can be removed, in some species, at the cost of the tree, and tree-hide and tree-pelt is a famous Hellene luxury export.
The major moon, Athena, presents a disc nearly as large as Luna's seen from Earth. The minor moon, Solon, orbits further out and presents a disc not much larger than a point of light. Only Athena and the sun have any noticable effect on Hellene's tides.
The spectacular skymark is Girasol, 70 Ophiuchi B, twin to Hellene's sun. It presents a pinpoint of amber light, not a disc, but it makes up for it in brilliance. Half the year, it lights up the night sky with a pale, golden glow bright enough to read by and see color, and painful to stare at. The other half, it is visible in the daytime as a yellow spark.
Hellene was one of the most heavily colonized worlds in Terran space. It was set up as a refuge and dumping ground for die-hard nationalists. The geography is divided up into many archipelagos, giving a uniform climate and plenty of natural boundaries for the many different enclaves. Many religious and political groups followed the national groups to Hellene, and neo-human enclaves settled there when these races sprang up.
United Earth required little of the nations of Hellene. They were not allowed to make war on each other. They were not allowed to exterminate any native species. They were required to have free emigration -- "If you don't like it here, you can leave." But, within those strictures, the enclaves were allowed to establish whatever laws they liked regarding racial make-up, caste systems, religions, languages, political parties, economic systems, or ecological management. On Earth, by contrast, UE controlled all international trade, and so indirectly drove national economies.
United Earth insisted on a planetary government to keep international peace on Hellene. It enforced migratory freedom, made sure national armies did not arise, monitored the ecological policies, and spent most of its time acting as intermediary in extradition and trade disputes. But that was after things settled down. Before that, there was much unrest and resentment of the planetary government, and the UE armed forces spent many long years backing up (or puppeting) the Hellene parliament.
In the First Union, its turbulent early history includes five civil wars attempting secession from the Hellenic world state, two attempts to overthrow the world state, and three big squabbles between enclaves.
Hellene suffered long and hard during five years of enemy occupation during the Psi War. However, the war did much to enhance pan-Hellenic solidarity, with unconquered enclaves and the undergrounds of conquered enclaves putting aside old quarrels and scheming busily all over the planet.
After the war, though, the old nationalism started to revive. Disputes about trade and smuggling between Haute France and New Alaska escalated into reciprocal "police actions" that the planetary government deemed an undeclared war. Pericles sent in peacekeeping troops that Haute France attacked, claiming to Pericles that these troops were behaving criminally. Soon, though, Haute France declared independence and Pericles declared war. For the first time, the planetary government would have to enforce its rule without backing from United Earth.
The planetary government's own troops were insufficient to the task so it called in the forces of several enclaves. Warsavia and High Caledonia refused. Pericles declared their governments deposed, but did nothing about it beyond diplomatic snubs for three years.
The two enclaves' governments were therefore completely surprised and unprepared when, immediately after defeating Haute France, Periclean troops (assisted by Albionite and Sterndeutsche forces) performed lightning-strike invasions of their capitals and arrested both parilaments en masse.
Pericles enforced martial law on the three enclaves only long enough to run through elections, each proceeding according to local election laws. The planetary government was lucky; the governments of Warsavia and High Caledonia were both unpopular. The forced elections and new government were quite popular in Warsavia. The High Caledonians were much less enthusiastic; they had not liked their parliament, but they did not like Pericles's methods, either.
Haute France was the most indignant, but also the most rigidly controlled. The newly elected government was widely denounced as a collection of puppets and few of its officials stayed in office after the next election. But neither did the succeeding government try to secede.
Despite a long series of scattered separatist movements, Hellene was finally a world-state.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.