This is the start of my latest Sci-fi novel. I would be very grateful for any feedback from such a discerning audience. I am preparing it for publication.
Yes - the humour in the story is intended.
Chapter 1 - The beginning
I suggest we have a tea break, Lat suggested testily.
No. Zag said firmly in his most authoritative voice. Not until we have finally agreed on this damn mission statement.
The committee had been in session for three weeks now - a whole, unprecedented three weeks, twenty one flaming days, without so much as a break, not even a lousy toilet break. It was true that a Gordian’s metabolism could put up with such insults but it was far from desirable and did little to ameliorate the disposition of the reluctant participants. But Zag saw it as a necessary evil. There was work to be done. In just under three months’ time they had been promised a full inspection and everyone knew what that meant. President Bog had introduced the new austerity measures and was looking to cut to the bone. He considered arts, science and most other things, including aliens, especially aliens, frivolous and unnecessary. The cards were on the table for the Gordian Institute for Extra-terrestrial Research and Conservation, or GIERC, as it was generally known. Bog was not renowned for his love of anything other than business and the bottom line, and aliens were definitely not profitable enough. Besides, they were ugly and revolting. In his book they were worse than Gordian ballet – and Gordian ballet was renowned for inducing catatonia and suicide. The future for the institute looked dire.
But Zag, the assistant Director, was determined not to go down without a fight. Despite his present fury - directed at Director Zor who, as usual, was nowhere to be seen, because he was off gallivanting around the galaxy as per bloody usual, he remained passionate about the place. Zag cherished the institute with all his heart and truly believed that the work they performed was inspirational and exceedingly important in such an increasingly uncaring universe. Without the institute’s efforts thousands of alien species would now be extinct. To his great satisfaction they had, against all the odds, successfully reintroduced a great array of alien life back into the wild. Then there were the educational benefits to consider. Generations of young Gordians had their empathic glands fully charged through a single visit to the institute. They learned to value the range of alien life out there and see them as fellow sentient beings, not mere objects to be exploited, or lesser creatures destined to disappear for ever. Aliens were important. They had feelings too. Thanks to the Institute many youngsters took that message on board. There was hope. While the institute existed there was hope.
In Zag’s opinion Bog was a philistine, a monster of the first order. He represented all that was retrograde and soulless. The world he wanted to create was as grey and boring as Briscow’s synthsoup – and Briscow’s synthsoup made distilled water taste positively tangy.
It was true that the planet had a few financial problems but it did not have to be one long decline into economic madness and uncaring exploitation - did it? There were better ways. The Institute for Extra-terrestrial Research and Conservation clearly demonstrated that and was, in Zag’s eyes, the last bastion of civilisation. If it was the last thing he did Zag intended to ensure that their crucial work continued and that the cretinous Bog did not get his way and close it down. Despite his ire at the irresponsibility of Zor, he was resolute to do all in his power to keep the place open. To that end he had brought the committee together to review and update their policy books. Everyone knew that paperwork was the key to success. When the inspection team arrived he meant to present them with a set of documents that were not only first class but would demonstrate quite clearly the essential nature of their work and its value to Gordian society. No self-respecting inspection team could argue with that, could they?
The major obstacle to achieving this laudable aim seemed to be the committee itself. Individually they were all as passionate and committed as Zag. The problem was that none of them agreed on how to go about achieving their aims. Indeed, deciding on the actual aims was nigh on impossible. Every one of them held a different vision that they sought to promote. No two of them shared a view and none of them were prepared to compromise. In that respect it was a fairly typical committee.
Dut and Lat were utterly impossible. Zag could not fault their spirit or intent but they were so irrational that it drove him crazy. They both wanted to take the work of the institute out of the confines of the galaxy to the universe beyond. Their ideas were so far-reaching and grandiose that they did not have an ice-ball in hell’s chance of success. Every time they opened their mouths it was some other ridiculous plan to take their work to some distant far-flung backwater tucked away in the middle of some megallanic cloud that could never, in a billion bloody Sundays, gain funding or achieve anything worthwhile, just because there was a rumour of some weird bunch of aliens who were on the point of dying out. As far as Zag was concerned Dut and Lat were out with the fairies. He was already drawing up plans in his mind to have them elsewhere when the inspection team arrived. If the chief inspector got one whiff of those two then he reasoned that the game was up.
Then there was Mut - on the face of it quite rational and down to earth. At least he wasn’t cooking up fanciful schemes for some plasma based life inhabiting a sun the other side of the universe; he was quite OK with focussing nearer to home with life-forms that bore some resemblance to Gordians and so could be in with a chance of being recognised, even by meatheads such as Bog, as being alive and having intelligence. The problem with Mut was that he did not value paperwork. He hated bureaucracy and begrudged every minute spent doing it. Reviewing the policies was tantamount to torture for Mut. He wanted to be out there collecting alien specimens, harvesting and observing them. That was laudable but not helpful when it came to the bloody inspection. No matter how hard Zag tried to impress upon him the need for planning, management of resources, or strategic thinking, Mut simply did not get it. He wanted action. No matter how much Zag explained that all action depended on clear philosophy or else it broke down into anarchy and chaos, Mut simply went deaf. It was like talking to a brick wall. They had been in session now for three weeks and had not yet been able to agree on the opening mission statement. As the policy booklet was 500 pages long, and the mission statement merely one paragraph, it did not bode well for the completion of the task in time for the inspection.
Zag looked sternly round at the other three with a fierce gleam in his eyes. We will bloody agree on this mission statement before we take any break or sustenance, he asserted fiercely. He glared round at them one by one daring them to contradict him. They’d been at this for twenty one days and he was pretty much at the end of his tether. If they so much as blinked he’d explode.
But a tea break would refresh the mind and enable us to work more efficiently; Lat persisted, not at all intimidated by Zag’s most fearsome scowl. He lolled on his couch looking bored and could not care less how angry that made Zag.
Can’t we simply gather together a huge number of new specimens to impress them with? Mut enquired for the umpteenth time. Surely they can’t fail to be impressed by all the conservation work we have undertaken? He was usually a staunch ally of Zag’s but was greatly irritated by the way the inspection was diverting attention away from the aliens they were caring for. He wanted to get back to work.
No it bloody wouldn’t, and no we bloody can’t, Zag insisted, on the verge of going volcanic. All we bloody well have to do is agree a simple statement. That’s all. Then we can take a break and refresh our bloody minds. He was in danger of losing it and he was experienced enough to know that losing it was no good to anybody. If you lost it you lost. Those were the rules of committees.
He looked around the committee room at the three blobs that confronted him. He was the only one of the four of them who now retained his shape. At the beginning of the meeting he had decided on a bipedal sylph-like form which he always found rather elegant. The others had adopted an array of other equally impressive though less formal shapes. The institute did not go in for uniforms or even standardisation of body shape. They preferred informality. Zag was a little miffed by this policy. He rather thought that a nice uniform coupled with a pleasing form created an aura of professionalism. He was not impressed by the dress of his fellow senior team colleagues or their chosen body shapes. Lat had settled for a rather ugly quadruped of garish colour, probably intended to challenge Zag’s supremacy, and the other two had adopted variations of the bipedal model with an array of rather ostentatious testicular embellishments. However, all that had now gone. The three of them had given up all pretence of maintaining any morph and were lolling around in their seats in unrestricted masses; masses that were now noticeably smaller than when they had begun this exercise three weeks ago.
Zag, well aware of the way this committee operated, had looked to focus their minds on reaching conclusions by depriving them of nourishment or relaxation until the task was complete.
As usual it was a tactic that had not borne results. But then nothing ever did, whatever he tried.
Now, he pleaded, softening his tone with a great effort. Can we just focus for once and agree this simple Mission Statement so that we can move on to the rest of the document. We have been three weeks on this one simple statement – three bloody weeks! I would remind you that the inspection team will be all over us in less than three months’ time. At this rate we’ll hardly have got started let alone have a set of documents to impress them with. He slumped back on his couch in frustration. We are in grave danger of having our operation closed down. Now can we please get a grip? He looked around the group appealingly.
Nobody said a word. They all glumly stared back at him with the most dejected, bored expressions on what passed for faces.
Right! Zag sat upright and pulled his body into an even tighter shape. I shall read it to you one more time and hopefully this time we can all agree that it puts the principles of GIERC in a nutshell, Zag said, desperately trying to summon up some modicum of enthusiasm for the task. His patience was so threadbare that his raw emotional state was hanging out for all to see and that wasn’t good.
Nobody spoke. They were used to Zag’s enthusiasm and tactics. They had all now resentfully reabsorbed any orifice that might have been used for vocalisation and were glowering at him through numerous optical devices. Zag took that to mean that he had some kind of tacit agreement so he read the statement that had taken three weeks in the making.
The principle aim of the Gordian Institute for Extra-terrestrial Research and Conservation is to preserve endangered species of life in the Milky Way Galaxy.
Zag glared round at the three of them daring any one to contest the statement.
Finally Lat broke the silence. I still think we ought to include something about study in there, Lat objected. Study is an important part of our purpose.
And some mention of the wider universe I think is essential, Dut said morosely. We should show that we are forward thinking.
For the love of Heaven, Zag shouted, throwing his four manipulators in the air in exasperation. We can put in about the rest of the stuff later on. Of course research and study are important and eventually the rest of the bloody universe. But right now we have a sodding inspection and they won’t give a sod about all of that. They just want to shut us down. Can’t you see that? He looked round at the three of them pleadingly. It was evident from their petulant scowls that they couldn’t. They were tainted with idealistic fervour. They’d rather sink with their principles intact rather that swim with them compromised. But this is our one fundamental purpose – our mission statement. One bloody thing. That is all. One bloody statement – one crucial essence of purpose. Can’t you understand that? By the end of his harangue he was bellowing. His body had turned an angry blue and protuberances were beginning to burst out all over his body. It was not good.
They all looked at him with an air of resignation and sour resentment.
Right. Right, Zag said, pulling himself back into a semblance of calm and adopted a more conciliatory tone, reabsorbing the nascent limbs and organs, allowing his skin tone to lighten and with a great effort resuming his controlled body shape. He was determined not to let it get to him. Are we agreed, he said in a quieter tone, that this is the primary fundamental purpose of the institute and should be our mission statement – yes or no?
Isn’t it exactly the same as the mission statement we started with three weeks ago? Mut muttered.