Circus of the Stars

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Chapter 2: Robot Bees

The rooms each of them had been assigned were spacious, with a personal bathroom, kitchen and study. Each space was hexagonal, with connections to other areas through hexagonal doorways. Even the bed was hexagonal, and the pillows, which could be placed around each of the six sides. The doors would open to their touch, but no one else’s, because their rooms were taught to recognize them. The children couldn’t understand exactly how the Circus could fit in accommodation for so many people in such a small space--because the tents were much larger on the inside than the outside. Centa told them that the tents “folded space” to fit everything in, but this didn’t help them at all.

Each of the children spent a couple of hours in the Supplies Tent, marvelling at its many, seemingly endless interconnected rooms. They also had tremendous fun, learning to use the hex pads. These were small flat hexagonal devices, about 50 centimeters wide, which hovered slightly off the floor as soon as you stood on them. By shifting your weight in one direction, the pad would start to skim noiselessly across the ground, cushioned by a layer of thickened air. Changing direction was as simple as adjusting balance, and both of them found they could soon start doing tricks, including spins, quick turns, sudden stops and even small jumps over obstacles.

Sione was much better at riding the pad than Lan, who had never tried a skateboard. The hover-hexes seemed to learn from them too, adjusting to their preferences for speed and motion -- but any attempt to make the movements more extreme were quickly restricted, due to some kind of built-in safety systems. By using the hex pads, they could quickly cover a lot of distance, as they looked through the Supplies Tent for new clothes and toys.

“You won’t need any money here,” said Centa. “Everything in Supplies is free for the taking by any Circus member – as long as you can carry it away!”

They soon learned that there were special carrier-pads with tall hexagonal baskets, which could be linked together with their own hex pad, flying in a formation of clothes, toys, books and luggage. Centa had told them that the software in their nannies was helping them to control the hex pads, and with practice, they would be able to use them to cover long distances, and even ride them with their eyes closed.

This is so cool.

Sione and Lan finally got all their items packed away in their new homes, and were wearing the new clothes they found, which were pale blue. Meeting up outside, they decided to explore the rest of the Circus together. They started with the Dining Tent, where they had already been for breakfast that morning, and discovered that there were more people there this time, sitting at hexagonal tables. A long table supported a honeycomb of trays, with a wide variety of incredible looking foods. Some of the items appeared to be familiar enough, such as baked pastries (although the colours were a little unusual, with more greens and blues than expected), as well as breads (both sliced, and in rolls, or hexes) and polygonal pies (pre-cut into six slices.) Other foods looked very unusual indeed, including small yellow pyramids of a translucent foam, containing green flecks within, plus jars containing small green-coloured berries, which glowed faintly.

On the walls of the Dining Tent was a magnificent mural, showing what looked like huge honeycombs, with bees--and many other things which looked like they might have once been bees, or things which contained the idea of a bee, then went on to become something else. Some of the painted bees even contained what looked like small metal additions, like extra wings, or antennae, and other bees seemed to be building tiny bee vehicles.

Wow! Are those robot bees? Cool.

Without quite knowing how, just looking at the different foods gave them the impression of whether they were good to eat or not, and in which quantities, as a kind of intuition. Centa’s explanations meant they knew this information was actually coming from the nannies, which were suggesting what they should eat, and what they should avoid. Sione decided to challenge this, and grabbed a green carrot-like item, which he discovered was much heavier than it looked, and which the nannies told him would be quite unpleasant. He ignored this feeling, and sniffed at the garrot. Had he just made that name up, or did it come from the nannies? He took a bite.

He immediately regretted that decision, as he could feel his whole mouth burning and dry, as if he’d been chewing on a smelly woollen sock full of cayenne pepper for a week! Spitting out the chunk of tuber, Sione decided to listen to the nannie’s advice, and went instead for a hexagonal glass of yellow-green juice, to clear his mouth of the foul taste. The juice turned out to be a pleasant mixture of pineapple and kiwi.

Well, the pineapple’s fresh. Hmmm.... I wonder who that old dude is?

Nearby stood a short, old, bearded man, who wore a black uniform with very impressive silver boots, and a strange silvery hex mesh worked through the fabric. His eyes were dancing, and his smile had widened to a friendly grin, as he watched what Sione had done. He wore a small brooch, in the shape of a bee, over his heart, and a silver dolphin pendant around his neck.

“You might want to go easy on the garrot-root, young man. It packs quite a punch! My name is Adnan bin Ma’ad bin Nizar, but you can call me Adnan!”

They look so young. Much has changed, over the centuries...

“Pleased to meet you, Mr Adnan. Ummm... can you tell me how the Circus has pineapple, and kiwi? They’re from my world, you see. Oh, I’m Sione, and this is Lan.”

“Well, Sione. It’s good to at last meet someone from my own planet. We just spent the past week there. I joined the Circus many, many years ago--and this is the first time we ever returned to Earth. We always buy local produce, so we have a lot of food you should recognize. This time, the Circus was close to a small place called Arrowtown, in the south of a country called New Zealand. It is far away from my own land, the uplands of Nejd, which I fear are long gone.”

“We stayed there for just over a week, and I had a chance to look around, but things are very different than my previous life there. Motor cars, flying craft, everything so green and clean--our planet’s technology has really developed tremendously over the centuries. You even have amazing bananas, which look and taste nothing like what we had in my time on Earth. Still, I miss my camels, and the smell of date trees... but it was a bargain well-made, with the Marid who came for my grand-daughter....”

I still wonder.... was it a Marid? Or something ... darker.

Lan said: “Please, Mr Adnan sir. What do you mean, about your grand-daughter?”

Adnan replied: “Young lady, I have some small skill as a magician. When the Marid came, cloaked in darkness, it tripped a detection web I had cast about my tents, and I was able to resist the compulsion to sleep. I bargained for the life of my youngest grand-daughter, who it had come to Collect, and offered myself in her place. I knew that it was too powerful to defeat, but it had honour, and knowing that I never would see my family or tribe again, still I am proud of the decision I made. It took me from the tent, and brought me to the Circus. Although much older than many of the new arrivals, I was able to find my place, by playing a role as a weaver of illusions, and small conjurations.”

“But why didn’t you leave the Circus and return home,” said Lan, “to see your family again? Surely they miss you. Your grand-daughter must still be alive.”

Adnan smiled sadly, shaking his head gently. “There are several reasons. First, Prella and Jinq were desperate to leave, and found your planet quite pleasant. I also couldn’t face the prospect of some family losing a daughter or son to replace me--especially when I may have so few years left. And finally, more than 1,500 years have passed since I left my people in the high desert, which means my sons and daughters, and their sons and daughters, are long since dust in the wind. I have been with the Circus for all these years, and have seen many come and go. Somehow, the nannies help us to live longer, repairing any problems we have. It is a small recompense for the terrible loss of family, home and loved ones that we all share.”

I wonder what secrets the nannies have still.

“But do not be sad, little ones. As you come from my own home world, I would be honoured if you will accept me as your adopted Grandfather. I have much that I can teach you, and many stories to share, to make your lives here easier. And perhaps you could also tell me something of your own lives, and tell me of your families, so that I can recall better my own life.”

Together, the three of them selected some items for lunch, and walked together to one of the tables, which was near to a small fountain, which splashed merrily.

“I saw you this morning with Centa. She is a fine person, although she worries over-much I believe. I expect you would like to learn more about the Circus, and the parts you will be playing here. Tonight, we will have a full meeting of all the members, where we will introduce you to the rest of us, and discuss the program for tomorrow’s performance. We are on a class-K ribbon-world, which has reverted to a simpler tech phase, so we can use our standard acts, with a few small changes. We didn’t detect any hostile nannies, although there were a few snooper-drones flying over earlier this morning, and we don’t expect any hostile action.”

“Our media contacts have already tapped into the local entertainment nets, and ticket sales have been brisk, which means we should have full performances every night! We’re going to be meeting some of the local reporters later this afternoon, and we will of course liaise with this planet’s law enforcement (they always seem amenable to bribes--the only problem is finding the right amount. Too little, and they can make life difficult for us--too much, and they get nervous, or greedy.)”

They were joined at the table by a very tall, thin woman, with bright orange spiky hair, who was wearing a type of leotard, from which hung long tassels of sheer fabric, combining to make her look a little like a skinny pineapple.

“Oh hi, Lella. Let me introduce you to Lan and Sione, our newest arrivals”, said Adnan.

“Hallo!“, said Lella. “Good to meet you!” Her eyes danced as she smiled in welcome.

“It’s great to get to know newbies--I love to tease them!” Her laughter was infectious, and there was a very cheeky glint in her dark eyes, which were so brown and limpid, it was hard to tell where the pupils finished and the iris began.

“Lan, you and Sione are very welcome here. I handle media relations, and keep the history archives for the Circus -- both the official one, and the private history which we don’t share with outsiders. I would love to hear your stories, and will give you full access to our archives. There’s so much to tell... and I have already written a poem about your arrival!”

"Far from home
Two taken by night
Wandering the stars
Watery world, green youth
Who lifts the barrier
Which bars the way to
The True Hive?"

Adnan laughed. “I wouldn’t recommend that you give up your day-job, Lella. Even with my magic, I don’t think I understand half of what goes into your poetry! Sione and Lan, let’s talk now about your education. Lella will be your tutor in Media and Communications, covering meme-generation and transfer, memetic defences, story-building, communications theory and the like. She will also provide the basics for language manipulation and picting, when you’re ready for that. My friend and colleague D’Stroud will be your teacher for Music and Survival Training, while I will provide History, Mathematics, Astronomy, Chemistry, Physics and Art. We will also tell you about the Circus Myths, and introduce you to the Oracle, which has its own lessons to teach you.”

“As you have finished lunch, I’d like to begin your first lesson soon if you don’t mind -- we will be visiting the Observatory, and will discuss the nature of the universe, the composition of solar systems, galaxies, galactic clusters and even larger-scale objects -- as well as introducing you to the great void. If you’d like to take a break now to prepare, please feel free to do so -- then meet me outside in 15 minutes”, finished Adnan, rising and taking Lella gently by the arm, to escort her from the tent.

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