“Wh-wh-who’s that?” Tarquin asked his escorts.
“That, human, is Chief Borboygmus Marshgass III. He is our leader.”
Aboard the Sir Prijs, Joan Weinberg, still totally unable to contain her amusement, said, “Did he just say Marsh Gas the turd?”
“I don’t think so, Joan,” Merry replied, “I’m sure it was the third, not the turd. Anyway. Get a grip of yourself; this is serious business.”
“B-b-but why is he dressed like a c-c-clown?” Tarquin the Terrified asked.
“Show some respect, Earthling,” Flatulon insisted, still employing as many science fiction clichés as he could muster, “the Chief is wearing his best ceremonial attire in your honour.”
“Don’t let him get close to me, though.”
“He’s a c-c-clown!”
“How dare you refer to our leader as a clown? You could die for that, if we had the death penalty here. As it is, you will not go unpunished.”
“That will be for the GDEA to determine,” Flatulon replied.
“GDEA, Grand Demander of Explanations and Answers.”
“Does he wear a clown’s outfit?”
“He’s not a he, he’s a she.”
“That doesn’t make a bit of bally sense. How can he be a she?”
“Don’t you have transsexuals on your planet?”
“Well, yes. Of course. Is that what this GDEA is?”
“No, of course not. I was simply struggling with your language that is so preoccupied with gender. The GDEA is a female.”
“What, a sort of Borborygmusess?”
“I suppose that makes sense,” Tarquin replied.
“How so?” demanded Methany Grumplast.
“It’s what women do, isn’t it?” Tarquin asked, “Demand answers and explanations? It’s certainly what Merry does with me, and what Mama did with Papa; still does, as far as I know. So who is this woman, and when can I meet her. Even a woman can’t be as scary as your clown of a chief.”
“I AM SHE,” Methany bellowed, “You, human, are guilty of being rude about our beloved, revered and muchly feared Chief.”
“You?” Tarquin asked, incredulously. “But you’re just Arty’s mum. How can you be the Grand whatsits as well?”
“Never mind that. Here’s the Chief. Greet him properly, with the amount of respect due to his high and lofty office. I’ll decide your punishment after I’ve seen how you do that.”
The high and lofty chief (well, five and a half metres is pretty impressive, isn’t it?) approached Tarquin, looked down on him, and issued a single command. “Kneel,” he said.
“T-t-tarquin, actually. Pleased to meet you, your Ch-ch-chiefship,” he stuttered, quaking from head to toe.
“Not Neil, Earthman, kneel,” the chief yelled.
“Well, yah. Actually, both the same. Not Neil, Tarquin… Oof.”
Tarquin’s body responded to the thwack across the back of his knees, delivered by Artevon, by buckling appropriately and leaving him, as the chief desired, on his knees. Arty then pushed down on Tarquin’s head.
“Hang on,” Joan said to Merry, high above in their shuttle, “wouldn’t it be normal for someone seeking asylum to behave rather politely and deferentially towards those whose help they are seeking?”
“You’d think, wouldn’t you?” Merry replied, “These Borborygmi obviously haven’t taken on board the basic principle that if you want someone to help you, it’s your job to make them want to help you.”
“But what about the human rights people?”
“Borborygmi aren’t human.”
“Borborygmi aren’t animals.”
“I see cracks,” Joan conceded.
“And I,” Merry added, “see Borborygmi falling through them.”
“Thank you,” the Chief said to the now kowtowing Tarquin. “Now follow me to my chamber, where we shall discuss our claim to asylum.” The chief and his entourage turned about and marched solemnly toward the main administrative building which, to Tarquin, looked like a tent of the sort that generally houses a circus ring.
“Get up,” Methany demanded.
“Okay, yah, right, sorry,” Tarquin blustered, raising himself to his full 1.7 metres.
Tarquin followed the chief’s party across the square and into the circus tent, where he was relieved to see that the chief had removed his ceremonial hat and gown, and now looked like the rest of them – until one of his minions placed on his head an elaborate fascinator. Tarquin tried so hard to stifle a laugh, that he set himself into something of a coughing fit. Remembering the cultural awareness course he had been forced to take some years earlier, following an unfortunate faux-pas involving some Native Americans and a number of citizens of the Republic of India, he brought himself under control. The chief spoke.
“Earthman,” he thundered.
“Call me Tarquin, your Chiefship,” Tarquin replied.
“Very well, Tarquin. And when you address me, a simple Chief will suffice.”
“Okay, yah. Sorry. Carry on, simple chief.”
“Not simple Chief; just Chief.”
“Can’t a chief be simple and just? Ouch!” Flatulon had decided to end this particular exchange with what, among humans, would be termed a thump.
“Carry on Chief,” Tarquin said at last.
“Thank you. We are a little over fifteen hundred in number, and we would like a home on your planet. What say you?”
Tarquin reached into his pocket, retrieved a piece of paper and read from it, “It says here that I can neither grant nor refuse your request. Let me have a written application that I can submit to the authorities for consideration.” He folded the paper and placed it back in his pocket. High above, Merry smiled for the first time since Tarquin’s arrival on the moon.
“Not acceptable,” the Chief said. “According to the Declaration of Independence of your United States of America—”
“I’m not from the United States of America; I’m from the Global Space Regiment.”
“Nonetheless, that declaration says that all men are endowed with certain inalienable rights—”
“And there’s the rub,” Tarquin replied, “they are inalienable. That means they don’t apply to aliens, which is what you are, obviously; and it says all men, which means humans, which is what you’re not, equally obviously. So – yah boo sucks.”
Merry stopped smiling.
“Very well,” the Chief said. He stood to his full height, adjusted his fascinator and said, in a clear, chiefly voice, “I, Chief Borboygmus Marshgass III, do hereby declare and decree that you, Earthman Tarquin—”
“Commander Tarquin Stuart-Lane of the Global Space Regiment, if it pleases your Chiefship.”
“That you, Commander Tarquin Stuart-Lane of the Global Space Regiment, shall remain a guest of the Sol 3A Exploration Team of the Borborymus diaspora until such time as our request for asylum has been given proper consideration. And by proper consideration, I mean, of course, granted.”
Tarquin’s face blanched. He knew what that meant. It meant dipped briefly in boiling water in preparation for freezing. Did the Borborygmi have operational cryonics capability? Or was his mind finally letting go?
Aboard the Sir Prijs, Captain Meredith Winstanley addressed her bridge crew.
“It seems, ladies and gentlemen, that we are approaching a satisfactory conclusion to this sorry mess. Can I have a show of hands, please? The proposal is that we let the Borborygmi keep Stuart-Lane and we head back to Earth as though nothing had happened. All those in favour?”