Hugo Halespear raised his head from the clutter of his office desk at the sound of the door opening. The Regulan ambassador’s six-foot, pillar-shaped silhouette stood in the doorway beyond the pool of light cast by Hugo’s work lamp.
"Ah, Moray. How’s it going?"
"I’ve brought you your meal." The Regulan leaned his broad head with its three-foot elliptical horns slightly to one side.
"Great! Main light on." Hugo pushed back his chair and stepped over to the blue-skinned creature the light revealed. Moray proffered a tray with his upper pair of arms.
"Oh, no, Moray, you’ve got it all wrong! Look, fish and chips are meant to be served in newspaper! It’s traditional Solan cuisine."
Moray’s oblique-set, triangular eyes narrowed slightly: an expression of puzzlement. "In a paper made from pulped cellulose wood, marked with ink?"
"Yes, that’s it. Why else do you think hard copy tabloids still outsell their electronic counterparts back in the Solar system?" Hugo frowned. "Although I suppose that could be more to do with what’s on page three."
"But wouldn’t the lipids present in the food dissolve the organic component of the ink?"
"Ya. Gives it a really unique flavor."
"Sorry, Hugo. I’ll go and look for a newspaper."
"Its okay, Moray, I’m just kidding." Hugo took the tray. "Ey, what happened to the fish?"
Moray twisted the colored fingers on all six hands. It was like watching sea-anemones arm wrestling. "I’ll go back for it." Hugo watched as the Regulan dropped down onto all eights and rippled off down the corridor like a centipede. Despite their disparate appearance, Solan humans and the meek Regulans had a fair bit in common. Both were carbon based and had iron-containing blood, and technically both were mammals. More importantly, Regulans also became inebriated upon consuming solutions of ethanol, which made them the ultimate as far as getting along was concerned.
Leaving the door open, Hugo put a chip in his mouth and gazed thoughtfully at the wall-mounted holograph of his home world. The main continent was just visible on the horizon as a cluttered sprawl of grey and green, an indistinct smudge on the face of forty-third-century Earth.
Swirls of cloud shrouded the deep blue of the ocean, yet still the world glowed like a gem in the starry darkness. A few shuttlecraft trawled up through the stratosphere, propelled by jets of flame. A dark hulk lurked over to the Eastern horizon - a powership, dropping into orbit at the end of its return voyage from Mercury or, as it was more commonly referred to these days, Electrical World. The ship was dark with space dust, an old subphotonic freighter with great nuclear reactors bulking under the cargo hold and the minute living quarters perched at the prow. That sort dated right back to 3400, when Mercury had been orbitally adjusted into tidal lock around Sol, the core mined out and filled with capacitor banks, and the sunward hemisphere covered with solar panels.
Somewhere over to his left lay the half-Moon, its terraformed appearance similar to Earth’s, with its deep blue surface water and wispy clouds, while a screen on the opposite wall showed the glittering river of stars that was the Galactic center.
The intercom by Hugo’s desk beeped and flashed, drawing his attention away from the simulations. Hugo switched it on and the beige-furred, whiskery, otter-like face of the Fomalhautian Communications’ Supervisor flickered onscreen.
"Solan Ambassador Hugo Halespear? There’s a tachyon call from Sol. I’m just re-routing it."
"Okay," confirmed Hugo. He had little doubt over who was calling him.
"Hello Myrtle," Hugo greeted the face of a slightly overweight woman, unusually pale for a Solan human.
"Dr Buzzard, chairwoman of the Solan Interplanetary Relations Committee, Halespear," Buzzard reminded him.
"Ah. Not Myrtle Buzzard, to whom I prostrated myself across the pool table and proclaimed my undying love on last year’s Christmas bash, or the very same Myrtle Buzzard who the year before threw me into that canal round the back of the Bombay Duck on Mars for calling her a fat cow with a sad obsession for the color turquoise, on account of her knocking my pint into the crotch of a nearby Adharan?" Hugo stuffed food into his mouth.
"Let’s keep this professional, shall we?" Buzzard pushed her IR-UV bifocals up her nose with a hint of irritation.
"Nor the Myrtle Buzzard I sat atop the State Tower with, eating Garibaldi biscuits on one fine summer’s afternoon when we were supposed to be in congress?"
"Halespear, stop wasting my time. I shall be candid, if I may. Where is your report?"
Myrtle Buzzard’s face struggled to suppress a scowl. "Yes, your wretched report on the viability of Capellans as members of the Union of Allied Galaxies. The one which should have been ready way in advance of tomorrow’s conference on the Spican settlement."
"Uh, the Capellan Ambassador’s here?"
"Should have been for some days."
"I wasn’t informed," Hugo lied. "I’ll get onto it immediately."
"You’d better. I’ll expect it tomorrow morning, 9AM Solar time sharp. That is all, Halespear."
"Bye," said Hugo, switching off the console. He glanced at his wrist-computer. He supposed he would have to go down and see the Capellan Ambassador now if he wanted any peace today. He wrote Moray a note on a magnetic writing slate and stuck it on the door to his office before heading off.
"Halespear," a passing Regulan called out. "Where’s the Solan quota’s list for the Spican terraforming project?"
"I’ll do it in a minute," Hugo waved a dismissive hand at the Regulan. The Three Races of the Orion arm - the Regulans, Fomalhautians, and his people, the Solans - had begun the Spica Seven terraforming shortly after their successful terraforming of Achernar Five. The latter new colony was becoming very lucrative in its position as a neutral meeting place for the races of Aurphrochokia*, and the Three Races were eager to duplicate it.
[*AURPHROCHOKIA: the name the rest of the Universe calls the galaxy in which can be found the star Sol and its planet Earth, alias the ’Milky Way’. A general Union of Allied Galaxies law states that the inhabitants of a galaxy can call the galaxy and everything in it what they want, providing the major systems in that galaxy agree. Anyway, the major civilisations of Aurphrochokia met up: the Regulans, the Solans, the Fomalhautians from the Orion arm, and the Maldorians from the star Maldor of the Cygnus arm, the Cannans from the Canna four-star system in the Perseus arm, the Bazans whose star was in a remote place between the Centaurus and Sagittarius arms, and the Hyolarthians whose star system was quite close to the center. The suggestions put forward were as follows: Sol: Milky Way. Regulus: Stellar Vortex. Fomalhaut: Aurphrochokia. Maldor: Galaxy number Two (as extrapolated from a numbering system based on galactic mass). Canna: Spiral Galaxy in Which Canna is Located. Baz: BRSCHFM, which was made up from an acronym of all the major civilisations and came to be pronounced Barschafam, and lastly Hyolarth wanted to call it Hyolarthia after its star.
Maldor was rejected for the simple reason it was mundane and not artistic enough (as somebody said, even the fiths could have come up with something better) as were Canna and Regulus. Baz was rejected because it was thought that new civilizations joining the Union would feel left out, and although Barschafam was quite catchy. Hyolarth and Canna failed for being conceited.
Thus the contest was narrowed down to Fomalhaut’s suggestion against Sol’s. The Fomalhautians argued that ’way’ sounded too much like some sort of road or path, and that it might encourage people to fly irresponsibly in the spatial area. When the translation of the first word become common knowledge and the peoples of the Allied Galaxies learned that ’milk’ was the name for something lactated by mammals, there was a galactic uproar over how revolting it was. The Union of Allied Galaxies ruled against it and passed a new law that objects of astrogeological significance were not to be named after bodily fluids. So the official name, upheld by all but bitter old Solans who like to maintain that the universe was a better place when their species was assumed to be alone in it, is the Aurphrochokia Galaxy, Aurphrochokia being a Fomalhautian term meaning ’Drunken Gas Spider’.]