The Vacuum-Tight Suitcase
Excerpts from The Vacuum-Tight Suitcase by K. Joan Durrell
On New Crete:
New Crete started out as a money-making proposition, but it has spread out widely from there and is a good, solid success story for the UE colonial program. More to our point, you can have most kinds of fun on New Crete.
As of this writing, all the passenger ships land at Minos, the capital. You will quickly see that, just like Aten, New Crete has taken its name to heart; the city architecture is a mixture of modernized Byzantine, Classical, and Minoan. The city offers a good range of the usual tourist accomodations -- big hotels, little hotels, boarding houses in the residential neighborhoods, and things in between; resorts on the coast of the Thesean; public transport, fancy restaurants, a responsive tourist bureau, and lots of people who speak Earthron.
More particularly, Minos is a very cosmopolitan city. New Crete vies with Aten for the title "Gateway to the Ecumene," and it sees a lot of layover traffic -- Terrans bound for the Ecumene, aliens bound for points in Terran space. This has had its effect on the people, particularly the ones a traveler meets. I find them adaptable, unflappable, open-minded. Many of the large hotels have rooms conditioned for the nearby species of ETs. There are at least two with adaptable rooms for anyone who breathes oxygen and drinks water, conveniently near the KaiSenese Consulate.
New Crete's cosmopolitanism reaches its self-conscious height in the Anthroposeum. This may be the best anthropology museum in existence, and it is heavily geared for non-humans. The lighting is dim and wide-spectrum, the furniture is limited to cushions on the floor, there are no stairs, all the docents and automation speak KaiSenese. Someday, I expect they'll install gravity control.
The Anthroposeum is doubly educational for a Terran, since you can meet several other intelligent species while learning about your own. The models, movies, holoramas, and live demonstrations are all excellent. But be warned: they take a very clinical attitude toward their subject. Some exhibits are not for the squeamish. Others are not for the prudish.
Most people have heard of the agora philosophers as New Crete's equivalent of the soap-box orators of Hyde Park. That's a good description of many of them, but others stage debates, or organize little regular seminars in corners of parks and shopping areas. Still others deliver comic parodies of philosophical lecture.
The parody philosophers are, in fact, the oldest group. When tourism first came to New Crete, street performers sprang up to meet it -- singers, musicians, jugglers, prestidigitators, ventriloquists, and of course clowns and comedians. One of the comedians, no one now remembers who, started a routine based on ancient Greek philosophy. It caught on and, in places, turned serious. The result is you can always go to the streets of Minos for a good argument.
On a less intellectual plane, New Crete is a center of the arts, especially sculpture, holoforms, and other solid representation. Don't think that you can enjoy it all properly on TV or by visiting the touring exhibits at your local gallery. That way, you only see the stuff with a mass market. Only on New Crete itself can you see the works of individual and eccentric style. There are plenty of shops, galleries, and museums in Minos and Pasiphae, but I think the choicest are in Bukephalon.
The local food is a delicious variation on East Mediterranean cuisine. The staples, like lamb and rice, have been imported from Earth, but most of the herbs and spices are local. The local wine is a bit of a shock, with its smoky undertones. I suppose that is why it isn't a major export. But it does not take long to acquire the taste.
On the whole, New Crete is a respectable, family-oriented sort of place. Even the sex industry is dominated by restrained and cultured hetairas and hetairoses, charming leftovers from the 22nd century. You can get drunk or high safely enough as long as you stay away from cars and other heavy machinery; even a brawl usually produces nothing more than a fine, but drunk driving carries severe penalties, including sensory deprivation and aversion conditioning.
One attraction of New Crete that is real enough but hard to pin down is the change to an old Mediterranean culture. Certainly that culture survives back on Earth, but the international idiom is dominated by northern nations -- Russia, China, Japan, and the Germanics and Anglophones. Those are various enough among themselves, but they all have a degree of reserve, even the Americans, that you don't have among Mediterraneans. And they influence the other cultures.
New Crete preserves the Greek and Armenian cultures as they were when the planet was settled. The idiom is less private, less anxious, more personal and quarrelsome, than you find in the northern cultures. (I refuse to join in the speculations about climate and national character, but it's still true that northern Europeans, Chinese, and Japanese have modes of stand-offish-ness that Mediterraneans don't use.)
You can virtually live on the streets and plazas. People buy and sell there, the restaurants put their tables there, public TV (decently silent and subtitled) and music plays there, and the endless web of conversation, gossip, and argument is spun there. You get the feeling the buildings must all be standing empty.
In fact, they are not. But they are very, very quiet inside. People working in buildings tend to be working alone. If New Cretans start a quarrel inside, they take it out -- partly to leave the inside in peace, partly to look for partisans outside.
Don't be surprised if you find yourself swept up in some dispute or other at a cafe or market. If it was in Greek or Armenian and you don't speak either, they will cheerfully recapitulate it in Earthron (which the two populations use to speak to each other as well as to tourists). Be ready to duck extravagant gestures.
The Temple has dwindled on New Crete in recent decades. More New Cretans are moving back to Orthodox branch of Concordate Christianity, leaving the Temple to run a close second.
Many minotaur ranches have petting corrals for the tourists. This is the beast that inspired the planet's name and thereby probably explains the ethnic composition. It looks like a long-necked cow with a furred, coarse-featured, low-browed human face. The long, prehensile tongue is a surprise the first time. The New Cretans keep and breed them for riding, as horses are kept on Earth.
The perfume and tea plantations have tours for the public, if that sort of thing interests you. They take up a lot of advertizing space and are the best-known export industries, but they are not a big part of the planet's economy. By the time the Labyrinth Corp. charter expired, they had quite a diversified production base, and did not need to import staples from Earth or other worlds.
The minotaurs are the best-known members of a group of native mammalians dubbed "Anthropohedridae." That means "human-faced," but most of them look like antelopes with the heads of apes or monkeys. They are grazers and browsers, and use gizzards instead of the long, heavy jaws of Terran ungulates.
The mammalians of New Crete look very Terran, though I'm told the interior differences are dramatic. A nature safari will show you many large and colorful beasts, reminiscent of the animals of Earth's "Age of Mammals." The main difference is that the females do not give milk. (If you are offered "minotaur milk," you are having your leg pulled.) Instead, the adults feed the young by regurgitation from a special organ in the digestive tract.
The native fliers are a mix of scaly bats, furry pterodactyls, and insectiles with wings that resemble stiff feathers.
The golds, browns, and russets of the native vegetation, combined with the warm, dry climate, make an Earthling think of early autumn. But it looks like that all year. There are usually plenty of flowers to break up the autumnal impression. Just as Terran flowers avoid the color green, to show up better, New Cretan flowers avoid oranges and yellows; that leaves plenty of red, white, violet, blue and (yes) green flowers. They are variations on the tassel, with an endless variety of curls, branchings, and braids.
New Crete has almost thirty degrees of axial tilt, but the settled parts of the planet experience little seasonal variation. Most of the land mass is strung around the equator in a rough necklace of seven continents. Two are about the size of Australia, three are the size of India, and the other two are big islands about like Britain, called "continents" to make the number come out to seven.
Minos and most of the other cities are on Knossia, one of the two big continents. The other six are...
The climates are definitely cooler in the islands of the northern and southern oceans (the Hippolytan and Thesean), but with so much water circulation, the difference is not nearly so great as on Earth.
The three moons, Ariadne, Phaedra, and fast-moving Icarus, are all smaller than Luna, but they all have visible discs. This makes for an interesting sky. The second sun, Rhadamanthos, is the centerpiece, of course. It is a golden-orange pinpoint, visible day or night in the southern sky.
In concert with the other colonies, New Crete withdrew from United Earth in 2370, and joined the League of Free Earth Colonies in 2378, in response to the invasion of Hellene. Thus it became a founding member of the Terran Space Treaty Organization when the Free Colonies became TSTO in 2506.
New Crete was invaded by the Hundred Cities on Earthfall Day, 7 February 2381. The psi-lord forces never seized control of the planet and were ousted in the Battle of New Crete in 2382, which began the Long Chase to Hellene.
The Psi Lords destroyed the Minos spaceport but failed to take the capital. They took Pasiphae and Antioch and spread out to claim a wide area of countryside and towns, but encountered fierce resistance and a rapidly-growing body of psi talents.
Since the Psi War, New Crete has resumed most of its tranquility. Psychic talent is tolerated and even popular, having a faintly heroic connotation.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.