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  • majoki

Less Traveled

Thank D. H. Lawrence. Not for the Lady Chatterley thing. Thank him for "one rather crumbly adobe house built round two sides of a garden patio: and of this house, one spot on the deep shady veranda facing inwards to the trees, where there are an onyx table and three rocking chairs and one little wooden chair, a pot with carnations, and a person with a pen."

One cannot speak of the Universe. One can only speak of rocking chairs, carnations and a pen. This is the path to understanding. Take it on good authority.

Travel writers speak of ordeals as the ideal. I would not say that losing my tablature in Genra was an ordeal in and of itself, but the event precipitated my run in with the Pharph. Many travelers rave about Genra's pristinity, a term I find a bit forced since the Fall Treaty of 2207 mandated any outloop of the Unified System “leave no trace" under threat of "immediate UniSys revocation." Zero impact. Zero tolerance.

So, pristinity is the default and prevails in any outloop world. And, I must admit that Genra is particularly fresh and untouched. Chattering cacinadees give off a morning scent reminiscent of cinnamon. Iridescent gullas a hundred clicks distant waft unworried in buoyant thermals along the Tieriesien range. Industrious sticklers wrestle with dew-balls on regolith paths which weave intricately through the ancient settlement.

Genra is Old World without staleness, and I cannot help but wonder if that was why a Pharph was summoned when I reported my tablature missing. I'd had the device with me to post a few thoughts as I finished my tea-tea in the courtyard of the hostelry. I’d set the device next to my cup and been distracted by a merling hopping out of shock of thmaris near the whooping pond. I left my table to get a closer look at the merling’s filigreed coat and when I returned, my table had been cleared including my tablature.

I did not become hysterical as some outloopers might. A tablature, though only class three technology, is restricted to UniSys use only. Providing locals with any tech above class one is forbidden and can mean revocation. Theft of such tech makes the owner an accomplice in outloop worlds. As such I was aiding and abetting.

So, began my ordeal, which is supposed to be the secret spice of travel, according to writers who’ve journeyed from their desk from time to time and considered the excursion worthy of recording. This conceit of travel writers postulates that only troubles, trials and tribulations get one to the heart of a place and, indeed, one’s very own person.

Nonsense. As I stated at the outset of this piece, D. H. Lawrence got it. Travel need not be an ordeal. One just needs to find a comfortable corner. That’s all I wanted when I went to Genra. I didn’t need the Pharph. I didn’t need that ordeal.

But the Pharph was called when I discreetly inquired of my tablature at the hostelry reception. The Genran noted my relative calm and must have decided an ordeal was in order. The Pharph arrived promptly for there is no other way a Pharph can arrive.

It perceived me, and I felt my skin prickle like lightning about to strike nearby. Then I felt as if I’d been dunked in pudding. Overly sweet pudding. A Pharph can’t help this, but it is nonetheless off-putting. I gagged.

Steady, old man, came the reassurance of the Pharph, we’ll get this matter settled straight away.

It’s just been missing a moment, I mentally spluttered feeling every bit the naughty child caught.

Tut. I’ll just have a look around.

The last thing you want is a Pharph “looking around.” Normally they are forbidden to do so. That is also a mandate of the Fall Treaty of 2207, but it does not apply to outloop travelers—especially ones that have misplaced their technology.

When a Pharph is in your head, rifling through your recent memories like some big game hunter in a jaunty pith helmet and jodhpurs, you begin to understand what colonization feels like to the locals.

The Pharph was unerringly polite, almost jovial, trying to reassure me: What a topper that image of those flocking gullas is! You’ve captured that well. A first rate memory, old man. First rate. You’ve got a knack. But having a Pharph knocking about in your skull is like your mother going through your dating profile. It is an emasculating experience.

The Pharph eventually found what it needed in the reflection of a stickler’s dew ball. A fimtim. The pea-brained marsupial plunged from its tree lair and snatched my device from the table, then quickly climbed back into the courtyard canopy. Fimtims hoard shiny objects in their nests. I cannot say I blame them. Those dextrous and simple-minded arboreal share much in common with us on that count.

The Pharph recovered my tablature from the fimtim’s nest and returned it to me with a too-friendly nod. We got that solved spit spot, eh. Keep an eye on those critters what say. We wouldn’t want a literary chap like you with such cracking conceit getting revoked. And the Pharph was gone.

Only a Pharph had the capacity to mentally zoom in on that peripheral memory of the stickler’s dew ball and resolve an image of fine enough quality to see the fimtim’s “theft.” I could have been grateful. But was not. The Pharph had parsed my memories with almost infinite granularity, and showed me that I was a book too easily read. And discarded.

In retrospect, the mystery of my missing tablature was a small one. It probably could’ve been easily resolved by a few discreet inquiries from the Genran at the hostelry desk, yet he’d chosen to summon a Pharph. It was within his right to do so (the Pharph’s unique skill set are UniSys sanctioned for just such outloop investigations), but it did not have to be so.

As I’ve hazarded, the Genran may have wanted to provide me with an ordeal to intensify my travel experience and did that by summoning the Pharph who became an unwelcome visitor in my travels. I suppose that’s what we all are on some cosmological level. Unwelcome visitors.

The Pharph seemed to enjoy its travels through my once-pristine mind as an explorer of a place untraveled. Curious and exulting. But my mind can never be the same. Is that bad? Not necessarily. I haven’t sworn off travel in outloop worlds. But I’ll be more prepared. No tablature. Nothing but rocking chairs, carnations, a pen.

And a humility well traveled in any world less traveled.

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