Part 7

You wake early the next day to put on your best clothes and make your way to the dining venue. Reecho meets you just outside, dressed in a richly embroidered emerald velvet wrap with glowing gold thread. "I'll go first and announce you," he says. "Come in at the exact moment you hear your names."

Inside the venue, more Felisi enrobed in jewel-toned velvet and silk costumes lounge around a dozen tables heavily loaded with dishes of food. Reecho sits at the head table. Beside him, in an elaborate gilded chair clearly meant for the most important person in the room, sits the Matron. "I, Matron Claroe bid you enter my hall for the Welcome-Ceremony."

As you approach the head table, you can feel the judgement of all those eyes upon you. "We begin with the Demonstration of the Useful Gift," Reecho announces. You maintain your composure as you hold out a short piece of string and demonstrate the three knots you can remember off the top of your head. The Matron is neither amused nor impressed, but, fortunately, the moment is short. Reecho leads the next several steps of the Ceremony so you can recover for a few minutes while standing where he points and nodding when he tells you to.

"And now, finally, the Humans will perform their Cultural Introduction Play." Reecho gestures to a raised platform where your props wait.

You begin with the scripted greetings you practiced back on Earth, using semaphore flags to visually communicate, "Hello, we're pleased to meet you." The Felisi follow the movement of the colorful flags with delight. "We wish you long life, and happiness, and peace." Some of your crew members begin to play music in the background, and you move in time. "We are Humans, a people of great variety from the planet Earth."

As the official message ends, the horn player launches into a lively solo and you reposition yourself for the dance portion, still using the flags. With perfect timing, you begin to twirl the flags, their brilliant colors whirling before the rapt audience. You pepper semaphore messages about life on Earth, the experience of traveling the stars, and the joy of having opposable thumbs into your routine. In the final moment, you launch the flags into the air, cartwheel, and catch everything perfectly thanks to your overnight practice. You think you see the slightest hint of a smile reach the corner of the Matron's eyes.

When it's over, she addresses the whole venue. "Humans, from the Planet of the Soil, I bid you welcome to the Planetary Outreach University and National College Extension, and to our home of Araveen. The ceremony is concluded. Let the brunch begin!"

The Felisi in the hall begin to take food from the center of the tables, passing plates around and sampling family-style. With everyone else focused on the food, you can finally talk with the Matron. "It was an acceptable Ceremony, essentially saved by the moment when you captured those flags. Keen reflexes. Reecho, I have read your proposal, and though we do encourage collaboration with other sentients at POUNCE, we cannot release funding to visitors who do not have any recognized standing with the Federation. They will need a Sponsor. The Felisi may do it, but the Humans will first need to win a Duel of Words against our Pride of Araveen."

Reecho explains, "To debate our our leaders, you must send a Champion to win points against their Champion in a ceremonial combat duel. The swords are unsharpened and do no damage, at least not in this modern era, but you need a Champion who can win skill points and present your argument clearly at the same time. The University keeps a few on retainer --"

"No, Reecho," the Matrion interjects. "It would be against the law to engage a Champion for someone unaffiliated with the University. They must retain one on their own, though I can offer suggestions. The Silver Sword Champion, known for her unwavering combat stance, is meditating in the far desert. And the Golden Shoes Champion, known for her fluid footwork is training would-be Champions in a small town. Both have good records, and either would legally be free to work for you. If they find you worthy."

(48%) Seek the Silver Sword.

Gold beats Silver, but only by a very small amount. Quite a feat! Click below to proceed.