I wrote this letter on board the spaceship; but I imagine you’ve already guessed that from the postmark. Harshan and Darryl are off exploring the ship, leaving me with a little free time in the cabin. Just what I need to catch up on my correspondence! I won’t be able to mail any of these letters until we get to the Transfer Point, but by the time we get there they should give me a bulk discount: there’s a letter to my friend Joanne, two to my mother, this one to you, and a few other letters I really should have written before I left.
The ships between the Moon and the Alpha Centauri Transfer Point are quite small because of the low traffic volume, so the cabins are cramped. The writing desk is too tiny for my purposes, so I have to crank up the coffee table into a dining table. However, that doesn’t leave any room in the cabin for anyone who doesn’t want to sit at the table! That’s why I can only write my letters when I am alone in the cabin.
I can’t tell you how good it is to be back in Homelander surroundings. The contrast to Earth is ridiculous. For a human, Homelander society is breathtaking, uplifting, and fun. Of course, sometimes you feel that you’re somehow out of your league, like a child among adults; but Homelanders always manage to make you feel comfortable. Earth in contrast is just a temper tantrum. What a relief to get away!
Harshan is really bored. This is his only his second flight as a passenger, and once again he feels positively undressed without his duties as a purser. What makes this situation particularly awkward to him is that this is the ship he used to work on and he knows most of the crew personally! He says he feels like a lazy bum, watching everyone else work while he goofs off. Partly to compensate for that, Harshan has overdone the proud father bit, showing Darryl all around the ship and teaching him interesting things about outer space. That has given me a lot of much-needed peace and quiet.
Darryl is really enjoying the trip, and he’s the darling of the crew. Because of his hearing problem (deaf in one ear, below middle-C only in the other) he can only hear the male crew members, but the female crew members dote on him just as much. They are spoiling him with attention! Most of that is compassion for his impaired hearing, a rarity on Homeland. They even made him an honorary junior crew member and they’ve given him a few minor jobs to do. He’s very proud of it, and it keeps him busy. (Thank goodness for that! Nine-year-olds can be a terror when they’re bored, and Darryl can get wild.)
Darryl just thinks he’s gone for a ride on a UFO. We haven’t broken the news to him yet. He doesn’t know that he’s going to have ear surgery in Hapdorn, or that we aren’t going back to Earth. Harshan and I discussed this at great length, and decided to spare him these anxieties. If we tell him about the surgery, he’ll have nightmares about a hospital stay, operating tables, and huge gaping incisions, no matter how much we tell him that it will only take about an hour under local anesthesia. Kids his age have overactive imaginations, so we’re going to call it an “examination” until it’s over. He’ll never know the difference until he can hear better.
We also haven’t told him that we plan to emigrate to Thorgelfayne. Once we get there, he’ll like it and will want to stay; in the unlikely event that he doesn’t like it, we can always return. Telling him our plans at this point will just turn his adventuresome excursion into a nightmare of apprehension. So, as Harshan says, there’s no sense making a hugmup bed until it adopts you, and I think he’s right.
We wanted Mother to come with us; but after agonizing over it for a week or two, she decided that she was too old to emigrate to another planet. It was quite a weepy good-bye. She hugged us each and sobbed that she was losing her daughter, her son-in-law, and her only grandchild; but she also told us we were making the right decision. She even waited with us in the woods until the shuttle came to pick us up.
Here I have been rambling on and on, and you don’t even know! Harshan and I were finally able to adopt Darryl. Of course, that was necessary before we could even get the export certificate—we need that because Darryl is an underaged human.
Oops! There goes the alarm! Ten minutes until the Maneuver. I’ll have to clear the table, crank it down, and strap myself into a chair.
There is a slight change in the handwriting, as if Melissa had taken a break while writing the letter.
Well, the Maneuver is over now, and I’ve got the table back up and in position for letter-writing. Maneuvers used to make me sick, but I’ve apparently gotten used to them now. (After all, this is my second trip to Homeland!) It only takes me about eight to twelve minutes to regain my bearings. Since Harshan and Darryl didn’t come back to the cabin, I assume that they spent the Maneuver in the lounge, where they could watch the viewscreen. Just the thought that I am wafting my way through interstellar space is enough for me!
“Hey, Mom!” shouted Darryl as he pushed the door open. Harshan made a hushing noise, so Darryl lowered his voice, “You’ll never guess what neat-o thing we saw!”
“We can go somewhere else if you haven’t finished your letters,” Harshan interrupted, “I just thought you’d be finished by now.”
“No, that’s okay. I’ve been hogging the cabin all morning,” I sighed as I cleared off the table and cranked it down to coffee-table size so they could come in. I had just cranked up only a few moments earlier. “Anyway, I have writer’s cramp. I should have brought a portable typewriter with me.” Darryl looked like he was going to burst, so I freed my hands and signed, “What did you see, Darryl?”
“It was neat! First, there was this blue thing, and it got bigger and bigger, then it turned orange!” Darryl gestured enthusiastically with his arms to re-enact the event. “After that, a couple little red flower things just popped in the middle of it. And there was this neat sound!”
I looked at Harshan, puzzled. “Is this normal?”
“Oh no, it’s not!” Harshan beamed, “It’s a very rare phenomenon, and we were very lucky to see it on the viewscreen.” His face looked like he had gone up into his mental attic for a moment and then returned. “It’s only the second one I’ve seen in my life.”
“Well,” I said, expecting more, “What was it?”
“That’s the interesting part,” Harshan said excitedly, “nobody really knows. They’re just called Unverifiable Visual Phenomena.” Actually, that’s not exactly what Harshan said; he actually used a Thorgelfaynese acronym, and then explained what it stood for. In English, it would be ‘Unverifiable Visual Phenomena’ and the acronym would be UVP.
“I bet it was another spaceship!” Darryl exclaimed.
“Are you sure you saw this thing?” I asked, ignoring Darryl.
“It isn’t called ‘unverifiable’ for nothing,” Harshan explained, “The Maneuver only takes a few seconds, and it was during that brief time that we saw it.”
“You both saw it,” I said, “isn’t that verification?”
“No, I’m afraid not.” Harshan sat down and turned to look at me. “There were five people in the lounge during the Maneuver. During those brief seconds, only three of us saw the UVP, and we all saw different things.” He cleared his throat nervously. “You know what Darryl saw. What I saw was a golden sunrise pattern that turned white, and was silent.” He coughed into his hand, and added, “It could very well be that this is just a little-understood psychological interaction with the viewscreen. We could be seeing absolutely nothing at all. None of the UVPs has ever been detected by instrumentation.”
This was getting a little weird. Somehow I expected that the higher technology on Homeland would produce more answers and fewer mysteries about the universe, and I said so.
So Harshan explained. Science doesn’t solve mysteries, it increases them. Primitive societies have no mysteries; they have generally have a well-developed myth system that explains everything. Science is like a bubble: as it expands, its boundary expands; and as the boundary expands, the mysteries expand.
“So you see,” Harshan concluded, “the civilizations of the Spiral Arm have more answers than the human race; but we also have more mysteries. We’ve found more mysteries, in fact, than humans have found answers!”
“It sure was pretty!” Darryl volunteered.
Harshan chuckled, “It sure was!” Then, changing the subject, he asked Darryl, “Are you ready to go to the movies? This one’s about rockets and pirates and stuff!”
Darryl was very enthusiastic about that! Harshan interrupted their mock wrestling match to give me a little wink. I collected my things, and off we went to the ship’s theater.
What a let-down! Homelanders know the meaning of life; so I naturally assumed they knew the answer to everything.