Another day gone. One less day to drag myself around this world that makes me weight nearly half again as much. Heavy worlds they call them. Gravity drags you down, hammers joints, makes the everyday chore of walking hard work. Humans are not designed to live under these conditions but some people decided that heavy worlds are the place to be. Riches to be made, empires to be built. After a couple of generations they start to adapt, grow squatter stronger, slower and in my jaundiced opinion darker, meaner and just plain uninteresting.
Who am I? Ambassador from Earth Central to Heavyside 6 a community residing deep in Jupiter's atmosphere, mining rare chemicals from the rich soup of gas. Earth Central Ambassadors are trained to deal with a specific form of society and are selected partially on their ability to handle either heavy or light worlds. Me, built like a cart horse, slow, stolid I am supposedly suited to heavy side worlds and after years of training and preparation find myself on a heavyside world, partnered by a woman of similar build, intellect and character. They send us out in pairs to allow for the differences in the societies. Many communities are matriarchies, many are patriarchies, some are neither.
Beth McWilliams and I arrived here on Heavyside 6 together and we have served here for nearly 5 years. We will go our own ways when we finish up. Me to play in the wilds of Colorado on a magnificent state pension and Beth will go back to a significant other in Thailand. I am really looking forward to being a normal weight, being able to walk, run, jump and not exhaust myself by walking to the toilet.
Beth ambles in and tosses a digital stick on my desk.
"My, we are important. Encrypted message from Earth Central specifically pointed at you. For your eyes only."
I stare at the thing as if it is likely to explode. Beth prods it toward me.
"Cummon, can't stand the suspense. Open it. Lets hear what goood old EC have thought up for you."
Beth and I have known each other for years and are comfortable together so the gentle ribbing is just part of our relationship. And, before you get the wrong idea, it is a purely platonic relationship but Earth Central are good at matching ambassadors and they made no mistake by linking Beth and I.
I sigh, pick up the stick and it immediately starts to communicate with my communicator interface.
A single page memo. Nothing more.
I read it twice. The first time the full implication of what they are saying doesn't sink in. The second reading smashes the entire meaning into my mind and I sit stunned and aghast.
"No. No, they cannot." I stutter. "No." Total denial, but knowing that I cannot refuse. I am bound.
"What?" Beth is now towering over me looking seriously concerned. "What?"
"Brinne from Gideon 5 has died suddenly. Three years still to serve. They need an ambassador there immediately. I am the only one who can fill in. I take the next shuttle out."
"Double retirement package, big bonus on completion. All the blandishments."
"Gideon 5 is a light world."
"Half earth gravity. I cannot imagine being able to manage the change without serious help."
"No help, just a simple order "Get there ASAP and fix things.""
"Fix what things?"
"No indication. In situ briefing by the remaining ambassador, Jenny Riley."
It is dark when I wake. There is something wrong with the universe. I am floating, drifting, a leaf in a gently flowing river. There is no real up, no real down, just a floating sensation. I decide I need to know where the floor was before committing myself to a direction to swing my legs.
"Light." my voice came out a sort of croak mixed with a squeak.
Light floods the tiny cabin and I realises that light had been a very good call. My feet are pointing at the top right corner of the cabin roof. Memory slowly returns and so does my perception of gravity. My internal monitor chimes in, "Local gravity 75% of earth standard."
My head hurts, my stomach churns and the world seems to swirl in a completely unpredictable fashion. I loosen the hammock locks and push myself toward the floor.
My arms, used to 150% earth standard decide that I need help to get to the floor securely. I hit the floor with a resounding thump and then bounce upward. I make a wild grab at the hammock as it passes and stop my rapid ascent to the ceiling. I allow the tiny gravity to drag me back to the floor. It is at this time that my stomach decides it doesn't know how to deal with its contents and wants them all out. NOW.
I make it to the toilet in time but it is a close run thing.
I am not sure how I make it, but when we dock, I am dressed, packed and able to walk with a little dignity and some stability off the shuttle, through customs and into the waiting transport without making a complete fool of myself.
I learn fast that using the full power of my legs is a recipe for disaster. I trudge, slowly, carefully like an old man with arthritis surrounded by fast moving, light footed, happy, bubbly people.
I am actually missing the dour, dark heavy worlders and their sensible gravity. This is ridiculous. I am thus in a foul mood by the time I make the ambassadors residence and my mood is not improved by a tall, spindly guard asking me what my business is. I am just considering the possibility of breaking the spindly creature in half and jumping on it when he takes two fast steps backward.
"Sorry Mr Ambassador, Sir. Please enter." and swings the door open. I swear on all my ancestors graves that the creature actually shudders as I pass.
"Fetch my luggage." I snarl and storm into the building, which is the completely wrong thing to do.
Assisted by heavy world muscles and light world gravity, I hit sprint speed long before I have crossed the threshold and have to deal with a small vestibule and a tall, elegant red head standing at the end of it. I dig my heels in and manage to avoid colliding with her.
She raises one beautiful eyebrow, holds out a long elegant hand, "Ambassador Grange?"
One thing being an ambassador teaches you, is to recover your temper rapidly. Equally being in the presence of a beautiful woman helps tremendously.
I carefully take her hand making sure not to crush it.
She smiles, a little grimly, but she smiles none the less.
"Yes. Please come through and I can brief you. I am sorry, I know you must be fatigued from travel and, I am warned you adaptation from heavy world to light world conditions is going to be an issue but we must talk immediately."
She ushers me into a vacant office and we sit down, all of which I achieve without too much trouble.
It turns out that Tony Brinne had done some incredibly stupid things and, if he hadn't managed to off himself would have been deported forthwith. Earth Central doing damage control had promised the enraged government a Senior Ambassador of impeccable reputation to replace him. I would head up a specialist enquiry into Brinnes misdeeds and make all things good, smooth and happy again. I was praised to the sky. I practically walked on water. Everyone would love me, fall at my feet. I could do no wrong. I had volunteered to rescue the good ship Earth Central out of the deadly turmoil by my pureness of heart, strength of character and spotless reputation.
As this went on I look around vaguely for a waste bin to throw up in again.
"They are of course completely mad."
I say, giving up on the waste bin.
"Earth Central? Yes, we know that, but this is a mess and you were the closest. You also come with a very good reputation. Apparently the heavy worlders are in awe of you."
I sigh, heavily. "Is that all? Can I go collapse now?"
"There is one more thing."
I lookeat her.
"You have to be presented to John Freed, the Director. The guy who runs this little piece of heaven."
"Tomorrow evening is the official reception."
"Oh, ok. That isn't too bad."
I seriously do not like the sound of that Uhm. I look carefully at her.
"Uhm? You said "Uhm". Section Six of the Elocution manual says "Never say "Uhm" to an exhausted ambassador.”"
She considers this for a few seconds, then the laughter lights up her eyes, she throws back her head and laughs. And in that instant I fall, deeply, hopelessly in love with her.
"Sorry. I just did not expect. . ."
"Humour from a short, stocky, dark looking cart horse?"
She looked at me seriously for a moment. "No, I did not expect a heavy worlder to be so. So, interesting."
We stare at each other for what seems like hours. It was probably no more than seconds, but to me, it was a life time.
I shook my head breaking the spell. "You said "uhm". What do I need to know about the reception? What surprises lurk there?"
"How well do you dance?"
"Yes, formal ballroom dance."
"The Director expects new ambassadors to be able to dance and to enter his presence dancing. Your profile indicates that your mother was a ball room dancer. We assumed she taught you."
"She tried. Not particularly successfully."
"You can waltz? Foxtrot? Tango? Anything?"
I shake my head vaguely.
Then I sigh, remembering my Mom trying to teach me to dance and failing miserably.
The only successful dance I can remember was when I was 18 or so. She drank a little too much gin and I had a little too much beer. A Viennese waltz had come on the radio and she had taken me for a dance down the narrow corridor that linked our lounge to the bedrooms.
"Leave it to me. You cannot stand on my feet. Just swirl, feel the rhythm." And I had and we had danced the length of the corridor and back again, brilliantly, swirling, exhausting, exhilarating. Never again, but one of those memories that haunt your "what if" moments.
"I have two days, to get control of my body in a low gravity environment and learn to dance? What happens if I fluff it? He isn't going to be happy is he? This is some sort of a test isn't it?"
"Yes. It is. A serious one here. They take dancing very seriously here. Yes, it is madness, but none the less one that you need to pass."
My sleep is haunted by my mother dancing ahead of me, twisting, twirling, with me stumbling along behind her, tripping over my feet and ending up prone at the feet of Ambassador Jenny Riley who turns and walks away laughing.
I wake the next morning and manage to do the normal, routine things that we all do on a daily basis without managing to crash out, hit the ceiling, collide with anyone or anything. I finish breakfast and go for a walk, slowly getting the feel of the low gravity and my new weight. By arrangement, I meet Jenny at 10 and we start working on the mess that Brinne left behind. And it is a mess. Everyone is angry with him, but mostly the army. Furious was the polite word and it didn't really fit.
Just before lunch Jenny announces that she had arranged dancing lessons for me.
A dancing master comes and Jenny and I dance. Or rather, Jenny dances and I stumble, fall, bounce and curse. By the end of lunch time the dancing master is completely flummoxed, I am exhausted and Jenny is looking seriously concerned. We head back to cover some more of the Brinne mess. By late afternoon and a few hours to go before the reception, I get up and go for a walk, ending up at the junior school watching the children play. Like girls all over the universe they play those complex skipping games with squares marked out on the ground.
A teacher who has decided I need to be watched is standing close enough to intervene if I decide to become a menace. I note a couple of policemen arrive and stand around looking completely out of place. Suddenly my brain which has been in total blue funk wakes up. I turned to the teacher and handed her my card.
"I am Earth Central Ambassador, John Grange. Please. I need some help." I notice the policemen getting closer.
The teacher looks a bit concerned, but with backup decides to humour me.
"How can I help you Ambassador?"
"I need to learn how to do that skipping game. Can you help me?"
A peal of laughter erupts from the little girls, one of whom rushes up and before the teacher can stop her, drags me over to the squares.
"It is is easy. Look."
She jumps that complex set of steps.
"Ok, do it again, one jump at a time please."
Side by side, six little girls and one cart horse ambassador jump through the squares. They laugh when I fall and pull me to my feet. They cheer when I get it right, they groan when I get it wrong and jeer when I jumped too high.
The policemen are eventually cheering each success.
The end of break bell rings, but the teacher shakes her head and we continue. 30 minutes later I am exhausted and triumphant. I can dance the squares, not with the best of them, but I can do it.
I stagger back to my room, Jenny is there, furious.
"Where have you been? You only have an hour before we must go to the reception. You missed the the last dancing class!" There were tears in her eyes.
Before I know what I am doing, I kiss her, gently on the cheek.
"We will be just fine. You and I. We will knock them dead."
She has the good grace to blush before she storms out.
We are taken by shuttle to the reception hall. I am now decked out in fancy clothes, all reds and golds and braid, with some good strong dancing shoes. We have to wait for another ambassadorial couple to dance their way to the Director and be received. They do it with grace and beauty. Jenny is looking at me in trepidation. Now it is our turn. As I step out onto the carpet, I see one of the policemen who had been at the play ground standing guard.
"You'll be fine sir." He nods.
Jenny looks at me in astonishment. "What?"
"Don't ask. You are going to lead. Dance as if I am a ghost, you are dancing alone. I will follow."
The music starts, a Viennese waltz, I hear my Mothers voice, "Feel the music, flow with the music. Follow it. Drift with it."
I swing Jenny out onto that red carpet and say, "Lead, and I will follow."
Give her her due, she get the idea and fast. The waltz is fast, light, flaring, beautiful. The hour I had spent with the little girls kept my feet on the ground and the music did the rest. We twirl, whirl and end up facing the Director. We bow and he smiles,
"Ambassador, I am impressed. Evidently our schooling is up to Earth Central standards?"
"If not better Sir. You have some very confident, beautiful children. I am grateful to them, the teacher and the police for their patience."
We bow once more and walk away.
"You had better have a very good explanation for this." muttered Jenny.
"Later. Lets just smile and circulate."
Which is what we do. Slowly meeting the great and the good. Patiently smoothing ruffled feathers, flattering people of power.
The music plays continuously, groups dance in swirling colours and almost perfect unison. It is almost a sensory overload as the darkness of five years of heavy world is replaced by the beauty, the colour, the laughter of the light world.
We have almost made it around the room when we come to a group of soldiers all decked out in their ceremonial finery. The colonel shakes my hand and we exchange polite words, I am careful to be complementary and soothing. I am just about to walk away when the Colonels voice stops me.
"My men watched your dance. They heard the story of your school yard dance. They wonder if you can dance with soldiers."
Jenny looks startled and a cold pit arrives in my stomach. I have no choice, the army were the most affected by my predecessor's stupidity. This was more than a polite invitation to a dance, this was a challenge.
"Colonel, I have only watched the Cossack dance of Old Earth. I have never danced it. I have admired their strength, their agility, their grace. If this is the dance that your men do, then I am unschooled. I will willingly do it with, but you must realise I may ruin your display which you and your men have undoubtedly practiced carefully and which they are undoubtedly proud."
The colonel smiled, turned to his men. "You heard the man. Do we take a chance and bring him in, or leave him on the sidelines."
Before I know where I am, I am out in the middle of the floor with two large, powerful soldiers on either side of me, leading me, prodding me, helping me. They start slowly, down on one bent knee, arms across their chests, swirl around. Change legs, twirl in the opposite direction. Leap high in the air, down on one leg again, swirl.
And that is when my heavy side time pays out. My legs laugh at the gravity. The soldiers lead and I jump with the best of them, I twirl, kick legs and at the end turn to bow to the Director. with the soldiers.
The colonel turns and gravely shakes my hand. "I believe we can repair the damage." is all he says.
I dream that I am dancing with Jenny again. We dance faster and faster, slowly our clothes start to dissolve and soon we are dancing naked, then we are making love. Hard, fast and desperate I cry out, saying her name, announcing my love for her.
I awake to the dark. I am adrift. I feel crowded, crushed. I move and found myself brushing up against naked skin. I let my hands explore this unexpected pleasure. Definitely female.
"Hmmm? Again?" Jenny's voice in my ear. "You are insatiable."