So, without further interruption.... "Field Trip".
Over the Altlantic Ocean, Earth
Alliance of Democratic Nations
Universe Designate HE-1
12 June 2163
The long-range shuttlecraft coasted along, not needing to waste energy or reaction mass by accelerating harder. It was an old Zohan design, the shuttle, blocky and angular, not a single curve to be found. Unlike most of its ilk, this shuttle was painted a light grey, with foot tall block black letters one either side reading '0000.0000.0000.10AE.78AB-004C.12', the shuttle's designation indicating it was the 18th craft of the 76th Squadron of the 108,715th Fifth Generation BattleCarrier to be built. A standard Zohan squadron consisted of 12 fighters, 4 attack craft and 2 assault shuttles. Normally the shuttle would have been escorted by at least two fighters, but this was considered friendly space, and the rest of the squadron was engaged in training while 004C.12 proceeded independantly in-system.
Normally a shuttle like this would carry a small engineering crew to perform maintenance on remote platforms deployed by the BattleCarrier, but it was also used for even more mundane purposes, like ferrying a dozen First Passagers and their mentors/chaperones on a trip to Earth, along with two representatives from the Internal Affairs Ministry who had arranged for a tour of the ADN Council Chambers, the same sort of tour that thousands of high school and college groups had gone through, but the first time that a group of Zohan adolescents in their 'Passage' would visit.
One of the two mentor's was one of those few Zohan who looked elderly, slightly stooped with a shock of startlingly bright silver hair and wrinkles lining his face. He looked old, but he didn't move like an old man, still possessed of a certain youthful vitality. Mar'tov was the senior-most Mentor aboard the old BattleCarrier, in his youth he had been a Senior Executive, one of those who commanded the warship in battle, and the collar he wore about his neck was a christmas tree kaleidoscope of colors representing the postings and Passages he had gone through in a long life. He rarely took on a First Passager, these days, spending most of his time with those young men and women going through Executive Passages, but he had been known to make exceptions, a time or two, for particularly promising youngsters.
Di'not was one of those lucky few, a bright, vivacious girl with long brightly metallic purple hair and a gleam in her eyes. Clad, like the rest of the Zohan, in plain grey light duty environmental suits, with her name stencilled on the chest in simple black letters and a plain collar about her neck. She was one of the more daring sorts, determined to show that she was not at all concerned about going to a planetary surface, but the Internal Affairs representatives and her mentor had vetoed her determination to not wear the suit in favor of just carrying an emergency force bubble.
The other mentor was much more typical of adult Zohan, a young-looking female named Bri'loni who nevertheless had a rather impressive collection of dull black plaques adorning her collar, the dull black of a pure combat specialist, the only highlight being the thin white outline of her Executive plaque. Clad in the environmental suit, she certainly didn't look all that pre-possessing, her turquoise hair cut short in a simple pageboy style, bright blue eyes and a constant friendly smile on her lips. But she moved with the unconcious grace of a hunting panther.
P.J. Ritter was a standard government junior bureaucrat, in the Internal Affairs Ministry's Office for Inter-Member Relations. It was his government branch that promoted trips by students and tourists to the Alliance governmental facilities in Washington and which oversaw the public relations initiatives to promote pro-Alliance sentiments in the national populations, emphasizing the good that the Alliance government did. A thirty-nine year old American from the world of Madison in AR-12, he was accompanied by a New Floridian from SE-1, Gabriel Hoya, who had a fine Hispanic complexion and who had worked with the Office's Zohan branch, a rather demanding job that required living in space and putting up with all the eccentricities of the Zohan race.
The approach to Dulles Spaceport was not gentle, as the shuttle passed through the jetstream and endured turbulence on it's way in. It's descent became marked and below the island of Bermuda appeared briefly before it disappeared into the field of blue sea beneath.
The shuttle slowed and made a slight course change, and very soon it was over land, passing over Baltimore and it's still-bustling docks before making it's final landing at Dulles. Dulles had long been divided between the "public" spaceport and airport and the "private" one, which was heavily used by the Alliance government. It was in the private section that the shipload of Zohan adolescents would begin their tour of the Allied Nations' capitol.
Ritter was the first to leave the shuttle, and was irritated that there was indeed some press present, including a camera crew from IUNS. "Reporters," he sighed, walking down and steeling himself as they came down. "People, people..." he tried to say over the tumult of voices, barely audible to himself even, "the Zohan kids will be down in a minute. Please give them some distance, this trip is very important..."
The reporters gave him a small space concession but continued to bombard him with questions, mostly as to the nature of the visit, where the kids would be visiting, et cetera. Finally Ritter motioned to Hoya, standing at the door, that the bus was coming.
Bri'loni exitted the shuttle first, pausing at the crowd of reporters, but then continuing down the steep ramp with that same feline grace, her lips curving into a smile as she waited at the base of the ramp. Following her came the dozen young Zohan, the youngest being Di'not at 14, the oldest Sho'rin at 16. The youngsters looked curious but didn't seem at all surprised at the media presence, smiling as they gathered in the open space, ignoring the shouted questions after a glance at Bri'loni, then finally Mar'tov exitted the shuttle, eyes dancing a bit. The Zohan chattered amongst themselves in their typical hyperquick fashion, all talking at the same time in the manner that continued to frustrate any attempt at developing a workable translator for their normal speech, before Mar'tov raised his hand and turned to Ritter and Hoya.
"P.J Ritter and Gabriel Hoya, I understand that the transport is arriving, correct?" he said, the typical precision of Zohan speech slightly eroded by the exposure to human informality as he omitted their full titles and even used the abbreviated version of Ritter's first name. "And these ladies and gentlemen are members of your information gathering and disemmination industry, yes?"
"Yes, the bus is, well, right here." As if to punctuate Ritter's point, within a moment the air brakes of the bus sounded and it stopped just ahead of them. A door slid open, a slightly overweight middle-aged man in the seat complete with blue uniform and cap. "And we call them reporters," Ritter said, gesturing to the media. "The press is probably going to be everywhere, even if we're lucky and don't have to put up with a media storm. Hopefully they'll decide your visit isn't that noteworthy of a story."
Mar'tov nodded, then turned slightly and surveyed the gathered media. "I see, Bri'loni?" he simply arched one eyebrow very slightly, and the younger woman nodded, chivvying the youngsters onto the bus with a brisk efficiency, then waiting by the door for Ritter, Hoya and Mar'tov to board, looking just slightly amused at how those male reporters closest to her appeared a bit torn between gawking and a strong desire to keep some distance.
"As this is an area in which you are clearly the most experienced and qualified present, P.J. Ritter, under Zohan custom you would be considered in charge, we will follow your directions." Mar'tov stated as they settled into the bus. "Although I must confess that we Zohan do find it difficult to ascertain who amongst you humans is in charge of any given situation."
Ritter chuckled a little at that. "Well, first off I guess we'll be going to the hotel so you and the kids can get settled in. We picked one for you that's close to the New Mall side east of the Capitol Building, the Marriott-Fleming."
As they spoke the bus was pulling away from the shuttle. It took the route back to the exit roads and from there emerged from the spaceport to the main city roads, taking a relatively leisurely pace in traffic as it headed to the heart of Washington.
The old Zohan nodded, as the youngsters stared out the window, chattering amongst themselves as they went, clearly the entire experience of being in a natural gravity field, on a planet, completely new to them, and rather exciting, if somewhat disturbing, since the air was completely unfiltered. The older Zohan were far more restrained, long experience of the dangers that planets posed causing the to both be rather alert, especially Bri'loni, who never once left off her obvious watchfulness.
Once they arrived at the hotel the youngsters followed along with commendable obedience, still glancing around with obvious curiousity but ignoring the reporters. The Zohan had brought nearly no baggage at all, as they evidently travelled very lightly indeed. Just the environmental suits they wore, a small pack on each Zohan's back containing a few necesities, and nothing else.
The hotel itself was unaccustomed luxury, only two to a room, with such large beds, although they were uncomfortably soft. All this extra cubage, enough for dozens of Zohan in each room, and only two per room. All the shelves and storage, in what was temporary housing for people away from their real home. Each room had it's own Tri-D system, another decadent luxury that none of the Zohan could quite understand. The waste of resources and materials, just for housing, was, to them, quite absurd. But being young, on one hand, and being seasoned and experienced, on the other, kept them from boggling too obviously.
For about fifteen minutes the Zohan all gathered in one of the rooms, before emerging back down to the lobby to wait for Ritter and Hoya.
Ritter and Hoya had gotten a snack to eat, managing to get through the inside of a nearby Burger King fast enough to return in time, though they were still eating when the Zohan returned. "Well, everyone, I hope you're settled in," Hoya said. "Mister Ritter will be showing us around the Capitol to help you understand how the Alliance government functions."
At that, Ritter picked up the conversation. "We'll be stopping at some of the government ministries and facilities, plus a few choice museums, including the Smithsonian and the Aerospace Museum, and some of the cultural landmarks, including the new Monument Park outside the city this coming Thursday. Today, though..." Ritter looked at his watch. "Today we're going to take a walk around the Old Mall, starting with the Capitol down to the Lincoln Memorial and then back. Tomorrow we'll be back to tour the New Mall and to watch a full open session of the Alliance Council. Is everyone ready?"
The younger Zohan all nodded, almost in unison, while Mar'tov and Bri'loni paused for a moment and then nodded as well. "Certainly, P.J. Ritter. We are ready." Mar'tov said, "I trust that there are no atmospheric dangers that we will need to be aware of?"
Ritter chuckled. "Not unless we run into a hippy." He led them back to the bus.
"Hippy? What is this hippy, and what are the appropriate countermeasures to remove such a threat?" asked Bri'loni, perking up slightly, her smile getting just slightly feral.
Ritter broke out laughing, leaving it to Hoya to answer, "A hippy is an idiot who thinks that it's still the 1960s. They grow their hair long, smoke brain-killing drugs, and refuse to bathe. An appropriate countermeasure would probably be a bar of soap, or you could simply take away their pot, er, marijuana."
Bri'loni nodded, then turned for the elevators, evidently intending to fetch a bar of soap in order to be suitably armed to deal with such a threat, as the Zohan never took atmospheric dangers, especially in a non-controlled atmospheric system, lightly. Mar'tov, though, chuckled and waved her off, shaking his head slightly while the youngsters all looked on in interest.
"We'll leave dealing with any of these hippies to you" he stated simply, nodding to the pair. "Shall we be off?"
The group returned to the bus and were taken down past the Capitol. Once on the other side the were let out, and the Zohan looked curiously on at the wide spacious sight of the Old Mall. Along both sides ran the museums of the Smithsonian, with the National Air and Space Museum being their first destination at Hoya's request. Further down the Mall, visible as they walked along toward the NASM, was the towering Washington Monument. Ritter was certain the lines were long as tourists and students sought to ride to the top.
Between them and the Monument, the Mall was filled with activity. Rarely a day passed without some school field trip of some sort, students from across the Alliance and even outside of it in a few cases. The students used the Mall for recreation, save for when it was closed off for various purposes, and even now there were games of touch football, frisbee, and other activities going on for students taking a break from their tour of the restored capital city.
Di'not kept to the front of the group, mostly since she was somewhat shorter than the rest, and wanted to see, but also because she was, beside Bri'loni, probably the most adventerous of the lot, eyes darting around as they went, taking in the sights, the strangeness of being in open air a bothersome itch, but one that the Zohan were doing their best to ignore.
She glanced at Mar'tov, and when he nodded looked directly at Ritter. "P.J. Ritter, what is the significance of a large open area of hydroponic material and why are people allowed to damage the growth by stepping on it?"
Ritter chuckled at that. This is what we get for bringing a bunch of shut-in space dwellers planetside. "It's a place to relax for the people who are working or visiting here. And that 'hydroponic material' is called grass. It's everywhere on planets like this."
"And this isn't just any area of grass. This is the Old Mall, where many museums and memorials and monuments have been built over the years. Everything between Constitution Avenue and Independence Avenue from the Capitol to the east bank of the Potomac River, for a distance of about three kilometers. There's a lot of history here."
Di'not nodded, frowning a little as she considered the information. "Ah, so this 'grass' serves as a relaxing surface?" she looks at the Mall, then glances over at Mar'tov for a second then walks over to the nearest grass, kneeling down and looking at it curiously.
Meanwhile, one of the older girls, Shu'rio, piped up, the dam opened by Di'not. "Old Mall? I saw in the material that there was an Old Mall and a New Mall, P.J. Ritter. What is the difference?"
"The Old Mall was formed over two hundred years ago, when Washington was the capitol of the United States of America, at least in this universe. This was before Humans of this universe gained space travel. Most of it's monuments were built by the beginning of the 21st Century AST, over a hundred and fifty years ago." Ritter pointed in the other direction, east across the Capitol building. "The New Mall was established in 2145 AST by the city government to commemorate being chosen as the capitol of the Alliance. Back then there was a strong movement to only stay until a capital could be built on another world, but the city was anxious to keep the Alliance seat here, so they nearly bankrupted themselves with a beautification campaign. The New Mall was intended to be a place for monuments and memorials commemorating the Alliance, stretching down all the way to the Anacostia River. There's not too much there now, so it's just a park with a second, larger reflecting pool than the one in the Old Mall, but they're now building the Wall of Honor there, which you'll see a part of when we visit the New Mall in a few days, and other monuments will probably come."
Shu'rio nodded, along with most of the other youngsters, at the brief history lesson. The raw information was in the datapack, but seeing it was a totally different experience. Di'not rejoined the group as they made their way towards the museums that were their first goal.
Mar'tov remained quiet, letting the youngsters take the lead in asking questions, for now at least, his hands clasped behind his back idly, a slightly fond smile on his face as he nodded at Di'not, pleased that she had been the one to get the ball rolling.
The National Air and Space Museum was bustling with tourists, local and from elsewhere. Security consisted of what looked to be an old-fashioned metal detector, but which was now actually a sophisticated multi-faceted sensor that acted as metal detector, life-sign reader, and bio-metric scanner all at once. The security guards gave curious looks to the suited Zohan but did nothing once Ritter had flashed his ID toward them.
The main lobby was filled with the exhibits of early flight. Above them, a model of the Wright Brothers' airplane was hanging from the ceiling, and nearby was a model of the first ultra-light interstellar warp ship from Universe SE-1, the Phoenix. There were other models on the ground, including replicas of the Apollo 11 Moon Rover and Pod and, from the history of HE-1 Earth itself, the X-5 Interplanetary Jet Liner.
The chattering amongst the Zohan intensified, as they pointed at various ancient models, especially the Wright Flyer. A few seemed more interested in the X-5 or the Phoenix, but most were focusing on the older exhibits, a few even drew out small handcomps and started fussing over them. Shu'rio and Di'not both went right underneath the Flyer and stared up at it, talking animatedly between themselves as they pointed at various bits and pieces.
After a few minutes, Mar'tov raised one hand briefly, and the youngsters regathered, although eyes were still drawn to the hanging airplane.
Ritter looked at Hoya as the Zohan children were occupied by the sights. "You were right, they took to this like candy."
"The Zohan culture and society is geared around construction and engineering principles," Hoya answered. "In fact, I'd almost suggest we skip most of the Smithsonian's art completely, but this is supposed to be a complete tour."
Ritter nodded, seeing Mar'tov gathering the children together again. "In about an hour there's a 'History of Flight' Vid being shown in the old Planetarium Holodome. So we'll come back here around, then after the vid we can go back to seeing the parts of the museum you haven't gotten to yet. This way...."
In the intervening decades and century, the NASM had been modified into two sections; the Airflight and the Spaceflight ones. Airflight came first, and the Zohan were shown everything from the first biplanes in the decade after the Kitty Hawk flight to the most advanced jets in history. Scale models of the Concorde, the Jetstream X, the F/A-22 Raptor, the P-51 Mustang, the B-29 Superfortress, and the C-135 filled the exhibit area, as well as other craft like the A-380 and the Me-262.
The Zohan were fascinated, especially by the older designs, the biplanes and early monoplanes seeming to draw them like flies to honey. The Concorde drew alot of giggles and chuckles, as the children seemed to take a few minutes to laugh at some of the more egregious engineering flaws of the design, and the Me-262 drew some shook heads and groans at the poor layout and design. The Raptor and the Mustang, however, drew much more positive attention, although not as much as the WWI biplanes and the even earlier craft.
After a thorough examination of the Airflight section, they walked back to the Main lobby and over to the Spaceflight section on the west side of the building. Here were the other models of the first spaceflight pods. A small model of Sputnik and the explaination of it's origins, including a brief history of the American-Soviet Space Race, accompanied by a replica of the ill-fated Apollo 1 mission and bronze likenesses of the three astronauts killed from the fire. Elsewhere were models of the early American space shuttles, of the Russian Mir, and the International Space Station that was put up at the eve of the 21st Century.
The Spaceflight section drew a much more sober reaction, as this was the sort of engineering that the Zohan understood and practiced, and here the mentors took a bit more of hand, obviously asking the youngsters questions about various features and design tradeoffs, all conducted at the lightning fast speed at which Zohan always talked. Mar'tov had picked up a flier on the Apollo 1, and seemed to stand a bit straighter, looking over at Ritter and Hoya then back at the bronze statues, the chattering going silent as the children picked up their own copies and read them.
Another section was devoted to various warpflight ships and other interstellar craft. A model of the TAS Pathfinder, the first Kearny-Fuchida Hyperdrive ship from MWB-32, was set beside a model of Zefram Cochrane's Phoenix and the first Human Warp 5 ship from ST-3 . An exhibit clearly marked as "new" was a Bajoran solar sailer and the first Minbari jump-capable ship.
The TAS Pathfinder drew alot of attention, as did the Phoenix, although the latter seemed to draw almost as much derision as the Concorde had for some of the sheer inanities of the design. The Bajoran solar sailer drew a great deal of interest, as the concept of using the solar wind for propulsion was one area that the Zohan hadn't focused much on.
Ritter watched the Zohan looking around and looked at a flier he'd picked up, for an NASM "affiliate" museum; the Independence War Memorial and Museum established at the space station Babylon-5 in Universe Designate EM-5, where the decommissioned DNS (formerly USS) Independence had been attached to the station as a memorial museum for wars stretching as far back as EM-5's Dilgar War. When he noticed the time, he nodded to Hoya, who collected the Zohan.
The Holovid movie was next. They returned to the Holodome and got seats midway up. The Zohan were shown how to lean back in them to look up at the dome, and everyone watched as the fifty minute documentary started, tracing the history of flight from the Wright Brothers experiment through to the first jets, the first supersonic jets, and the first spacecraft all the way up to interstellar travel. When it was done, Ritter and Hoya led them back out to the lobby and toward the gift shop. The Internal Affairs Ministry had given each child on the tour a $300 stipend for personal use (The mentors had been offered $500) and they had each been issued a credit chit for use.
The Zohan were all completely silent for the entire presentation, barely even moving while the holovid played. As they filed out of the Holodome behind Ritter and Hoya there was some subdued conversation as they headed for the Gift Shop, which obviously puzzled all of the Zohan.
Mar'tov cleared his throat and looked at Hoya "Is this an exhibit or something else, Gabriel Hoya? And what is the meaning of the digits beneath each item?"
"Oh, this is no exhibit. This is the gift shop. People buy things here to remember their visit by, show friends back home, that kind of thing." Ritter gestured around at a shelf full of models. "You'll find them all around DC."
Mar'tov blinked, then frowned a little. "Ahhh, so this is where one would appropriately use those chits that we were given, I take it?" he asked, lifting one eyebrow curiously.
It was Hoya who replied, saying, "Well, it's one place. You can also use them for food. Restaurants are everywhere, as well as small kiosks and stands for people walking through the Mall."
Meanwhile the youngsters looked around, curiously, then one spotted a section of holotapes, including a copy of the History of Flight holovid that they had just watched, priced at a little over 200 dollars. Sho'rin finally stepped forward and gingerly removed one copy from the rack and approached the checkout, after glancing at the two humans to make sure he wasn't doing anything wrong. None of the other Zohan made any move, at first, drawing a few odd looks from the staff of the gift shop, but after a quick consultation they each picked up one small model of whatever aircraft or spacecraft had most caught their fancy, with 9 of them each picking the Wright Flyer.
With the visit to the gift shop over, Ritter led them back out to the Mall. Next up was the Smithsonian, which took quite a while. First came the historical exhibits, including the Enola Gay (which gained a lot of the attention of the Zohan youth), then the archeological and art areas.
By the time they came out it was about 3PM. They had only a couple of hours left before places would begin to close down, but Ritter stopped them as they came up toward the Washington Monument and asked, "Is anyone hungry? We can stop for a break and a late lunch if you want."
There was a mass shaking of heads amongst the youngsters, as Bri'loni chuckled slightly. "We are fine, P.J. Ritter, when we are hungry we will so advise you, I trust that our nutritional requirements have been transmitted to you?" she said.
Ritter looked to Hoya, who coughed awkwardly. "Okay then, on we go," he said. Leading them across the street, he brought them up to the Washington Monument. There was a line to get up currently, but it was not as long as Ritter feared and he figured it would only take thirty minutes at most to make it to the ride up. "I trust you all received fliers describing the Monument?"
Before either of the adults could reply Di'not piped up with "Yes, P.J. Ritter," which earned her a wry look from both of the Zohan adults and a small chorus of chuckles from the others, the sort that youngsters give when somebody is in TROUBLE.
He replied only with a nod, but Hoya had an amused look on his face. They led the group into line, and for the next half hour they waited and gained the attention and stares of some passers-by.
Finally they got to ride to the top, and from there the Zohan were able to look out at the heart of Washington, the capitol of one of the three Great Powers of the known Multiverse. Ritter let Hoya point out landmarks in the distance - universities, parks, and other things - before they came back down.
Once they were back outside, Mar'tov looked over at Ritter. "We will now require a short break to eat, P.J. Ritter. Where would we find suitable rations?"
Ritter looked around and soon pointed out a kiosk. "Are you able to digest Human food? I know some races, like Talorans, can't without supplements."
"Don't worry, they can," Hoya answered for them. "Of course, they might find our food a little... surprising. Zohan food tends to be somewhat tasteless."
"Ah, well, then you're in for a treat." Ritter led them over to the kiosk. He slipped a ten dollar note to the owner and said, "Please, no questions." He was answered with a nod and directed the look to his employees.
The kiosk served snacks and normal food. Hot dogs freshly cooked were set up, while a small fryer allowed the cooking of burgers. All sorts of condiments, in usual small packages, were in a series of trays beside the ordering window, with a rack of potato chips, fruit snacks, and cookie packages on the other side. Ritter ordered a hamburger, Hoya a hot dog. Now it was the Zohan turn.
The Zohan approached the stand rather gingerly, the smells alone were rather unusual to them and utterly outside the normal Zohan gastronomical experience, which resulted in some slightly worried looks exchanged between them, before both Di'not and Bri'loni stepped up to the counter, Bri'loni ordering a hamburger, Di'not a hot dog, and also each taking a fruit snack as they handed over their chits, as well as the same beverages as the two humans picked. The others then stepped forward as well, half ordering hot dogs, the other half hamburgers, in the exact same pattern.
Ritter and Hoya sat together and began to eat, watching the Zohan as they found places to sit and eat. "How well do you think they'll take to the food?" Ritter asked.
Hoya thought for a moment, and then shrugged. "They're, well, not really used to anything but bland food product. But I can't tell for certain."
The Zohan, meanwhile, were rather gingerly tasting the hot dogs and hamburgers, and evidently most found the tastes... extremely odd, although admittedly they didn't believe that the humans were poisoning them. Alot of them flashed glances at the two human's as they ate, but eat they did, only Di'not and Bri'loni actually relaxing enough to enjoy it, the others eating mostly because they required food.
"Given how they're looking at us, they aren't enjoying it at all," Ritter lamented. "Is there food really that tasteless?"
"Oh yes. So for them, our food is very very tasteful, and that's probably not as good as you think."
Di'not and Bri'loni finished their meals first, followed by Mar'tov and the rest, and rose from their place, looking around with a bit of confusion until they saw how others were disposing of the waste material, and quite diligently cleaning up all the remnants to dispose of properly, far more fastidious about such things than the vast majority of humans.
"Well, at least they're not litter-bugs," Ritter said after throwing away his own trash in a nearby recepticle. Once more the group gathered around and he led them further down the Mall.
They walked past where the White House was visible in the near distance, down on Pennsylvania Ave., and to the Nurses' Memorial statue. "This was made to commemorate women who attended to wounded and dying soldiers in war," Ritter explained. It occurred to him that the Zohan, not being planet-dwellers, probably understood little of the significance. "Some of them were hurt or killed in their mission, even before we allowed women to go into combat."
Mar'tov nodded, actually looking like he understood the situation. "Ahhh, much like HospitalShip crew back when we still build dedicated vessels of that sort, quite a few were destroyed, from what the records state. But only your females tend to the injured, P.J. Ritter?"
"No, men do so as well, both as nurses and doctors. But before the late 20th Century in Human history - histories I should say - there were taboos against women serving in the military and engaging in combat. In fact, in the old days there were many jobs women simply didn't get, it was considered 'unladylike'. But they were accepted as medical nurses, and so in war they usually served by tending to sick and wounded soldiers, comforting the ones who were dying when they could. And sometimes they were brought into the middle of war, a risk they accepted, even though it meant being subject to cruelty by enemies in those days who honored no laws of war. And it was for them that this monument was erected."
The youngsters all nodded, although a few of them looked slightly puzzled for a moment at the thought of females not being equal to males and of 'laws of war', but they remained silent. Bri'loni, on the other hand, turned to face the monument fully, pursing her lips a little. "They went into harms way unarmed, P.J. Ritter? Is there a reason why?"
Ritter shook his head. "That's how they did things back then. It was a social thing. Our society used to be very patriarchal and it was believed that women couldn't fight as well. There were some exceptions, women who pretended to be men to fight, but they were few and most women accepted the situation until the late 19th, early 20th Century. Though even today most nurses aren't personally armed and rely on guards. They're usually too busy saving lives and tending to the wounded and they need their own equipment, so they don't carry sidearms. At least, not most. I was once on a VIP tour of a battlefield hospital on the Dominion front where all the nurses carried pistols in case the Jem'Hadar attacked." Ritter gestured down the path. "Anyway, there's more down this way I'd like to show you."
Mar'tov nodded while Bri'loni let loose something suspiciously like a snort at the notion of women not being able to fight as well as men, but before she turned to follow down the path she looked at the statue once more and gave it a peculiar half-bow, a gesture matched by the youngsters and Mar'tov a moment later. Then the group turns and followed Ritter, a soft hum of whispered conversation buzzing for a few moments.
Nearby was one of the most poignant of Washington's monuments. The Vietnam Wall was set into the earth of the park here, creating a V shape as one could walk down the pathway to where the wall was at it's tallest. Even though two centuries had passed in Universe HE-1 since that war, there were still flowers here and there from local veterans' groups, school trips, and descendants of Vietnam veterans or their families. "This was placed in the last quarter of the 20th Century, about one hundred and eighty years ago in this universe's timeline," Ritter explained. "It was built to commemorate a long conflict in a distant part of Earth, a Southeast Asian country called Vietnam. Vietnam, at the time, was split into two distinct countries, one an ally of the United States and the other an ally of it's greatest competitor, the Soviet Union. For nearly a decade American troops fought and died to protect South Vietnam and keep it independent, until the war became so unpopular that the government was forced to make peace and withdraw. To this day, one hundred and ninety years after the war's end in this universe, it has been a source of controversy on whether the war was winnable or not and who lost it for the United States."
Ritter pointed to the reflective obsidian surface and the names inscribed there. "The veterans of the war were not well-treated. They came home and were abused and scorned. They couldn't be served in restaurants, they were denied jobs, they were spat upon and blamed for killing the enemy, whom our anti-war movement had made into heroes. The abuse finally led to a backlash, and the need to heal from the war and the division it created in society led to this monument being built. Everyone who was killed or listed as missing in the war is inscribed here. The Nurses' Memorial I showed you before was also made because of this war, as was The Three Soldiers." Ritter pointed to a trio of statues, three soldiers looking on at the wall.
Bri'loni froze, eyes stormy as she listened, and looked at the wall, the others also went silent, some looking at her, some looking at the wall. Mar'tov lowered his head, then looked up at the statue, then turned to the wall, stepping up beside Bri'loni and setting one hand on her shoulder.
The silence stretched out in a frozen tableau, before Bri'loni shook herself and turned to the statue, staring at it for a moment, then she shook herself again, smiling faintly at Mar'tov. "I know, Senior Executive Mar'tov, I know." she murmured, at which Mar'tov simply nodded, a slightly grim look in his eyes.
Bri'loni turned and faced Ritter, as the youngsters stirred and shifted about, looking even more sober than normal as they stared at the Memorial. "P.J. Ritter, thank you for bringing us here. But..." her voice trailed off as she turned to look at the Wall once more. "I think that it would be best if we moved on." she concluded, a very slight catch in her voice.
Ritter knew enough to see he'd touched a nerve, and nodded. He led them away from the Mall, down to the Reflecting Pool. "To our left is the World War II Memorial, which we'll be visiting soon, but first, allow me to take you to the very end of the Old Mall."
He led the Zohan down the length of the Reflecting Pool. Past it and up several groups of concrete stairs, he finally arrived at his ultimate destination, leading them to the Lincoln Memorial.
Even after two hundred years it was a magnificent building. Modeled in the fashion of a Greek Doric temple, it was of marble and limestone construction with thirty-six great columns to support it - the columns, by irony, were the same number as the states of the Union at Lincoln's death. Hoya and Ritter led the Zohan up the steps to the great interior of the Memorial, the central cella. To the left, behind some of the great columns, was the south cella where the Gettysburg Address had been inscribed upon the wall. To the right, on the wall of the north cella, was inscribed Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address.
And to the center was the great statue itself, sculpted out of 28 blocks of white Georgia marble. It showed Lincoln sitting, the symbolical image of authority - the Roman fasces - prominent on the statue. On the rear, west wall of the cella, above Lincoln's head, words had been carved deeply - and visibly - into the hard stone.
IN THIS TEMPLE
AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE
FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE UNION
THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
IS ENSHRINED FOREVER
The Zohan had all learned how to read English by now, once the translation program had been perfected they had set to that task, especially the youngest Passagers, with a vengeance, after all it was often easier to discuss engineering concepts in the person you are speaking with's native tongue. The youngsters took it all in, while Mar'tov had to consult his handcomp a few times. Bri'loni had the same look she had back at the Nurses Memorial, before she glanced at Mar'tov and smiled very slightly, a gleam in her eyes that vanished as soon as Mar'tov looked up. He looked suddenly suspicious but she had her best 'innocent' look going, so he turned back to studying the Memorial.
It was Sho'rin who finally broke the quiet of the group. "This building is of a very unusual design, P.J. Ritter, is there any material detailing how it was constructed? I can tell that it is mostly of stone." he asked, eyes sharp as he looked about.
"It was designed to resemble the temples of the ancient Greeks. They were a culture that flourished two and a half millennia ago in Europe. Some of our ideas of society and government were started by them."
Sho'rin nodded in understanding, then continued "Thank you, P.J. Ritter. Is there anything on how it was built, perhaps a..." he trailed off and consulted his handcomp for a moment "Architectural study?"
"I'm sure there are. The Library of Congress in Philadelphia should have something. Back in your hotel room there should be a net hookup so you can look it up, I'll give you the site name when we get back."
Another nod. "Thank you, P.J. Ritter" Sho'rin replied, going back to looking about with obvious curiousity.
The rest of the group was also still looking around carefully, although several of them made notes on their handcomps when Ritter mentioned the Library of Congress.
"President Lincoln saved the United States from disunity during the American Civil War," Ritter explained. "He was accused by many of being a tyrant, and just days after the main Southern army surrendered at Appomattox, he was assassinated at Ford Theater. But today we recognize him as a great man, a moral patriot who was dedicated to saving the Union and to destroying the institution of slavery practiced in the Southern States. In this timeline he signed the Emancipation Proclaimation almost two hundred years ago exactly to free the slaves in those states that revolted. He also arranged for government money to be used to buy the freedom of slaves in those states that didn't revolt, and it was because of him that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was passed that explicitly forbade the institution of slavery in the United States. In all universes, he is recognized as one of the greatest Humans to have ever lived."
A great stillness came over the Zohan, eyes narrowing as the listened, then in unison they all turned to look at the statue once more. They stayed still, not moving, not speaking, although both Mar'tov and Bri'loni had glistening eyes, bright with unshed tears. After a bit, the youngsters looked up at the two adults, both of whom almost seemed to be statues themselves. Seconds stretched to minutes, before first Mar'tov and then Bri'loni almost shook themselves.
With a slight bit of a catch to his voice, huskier than normal, Mar'tov turned to Ritter. "I thank you for bringing us to this place of honor, P.J. Ritter." was all he said, before he gestured for the pair of humans to proceed with the tour, resolutely turning his back on the statue with obvious reluctance.
Ritter was a bit surprised at just how struck the Zohan were, and he looked to Hoya for an explaination. "The Zohan were created as a slave race," Hoya said. "It's a very touchy subject for them."
That was answered by a nod, and Ritter took them southeast to the Korean War Veterans' Memorial. He led the Zohan down the north path of the Memorial, letting them examine the seven foot plus tall statues depicting soldiers from the conflict and the terrain mocked up to resemble that of Korea. Some went to the South path, taking interest in the granite wall with sandblasted photographs that had recently been so painstakingly recovered from the ravages of a century and a half. The images upon the wall showed both soldiers and their equipment, the earliest model jets particularly of interest.
At the reflecting pool itself were the plaques showing the casualties, both those of American forces and those from the other nations fighting under the UN banner. Ritter motioned those closest to him toward another granite wall, a restored part that had been lost during the troubles of the 21st Century when thieves stole the silver lettering - now, hard latinum lettering read the message once emblazoned in silver: "Freedom Is Not Free."
The Zohan were quite subdued following the Lincoln Memorial, as they wandered through the Korean War Veterans' Memorial, but they still listened intently to the descriptions, still looked about curiously, at both the mock up terrain and the statues, the plaques and the images, and the fierce phrase enscribed like a banner in latinum.
Ritter noticed that the Zohan seemed quite a bit more mellow as they left the Korean War Veterans' Memorial. Next he took them to the grand World War II Memorial that stood between the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument, but while they paid good attention they weren't as filled with questions as before. He began to regret not following his original plan of making the Lincoln Memorial the grand finale of the tour.
By now it was past five. The school children were gone, with only a few of the college age students left. The museums would be closing now. Ritter arranged by phone for the bus to come pick them up, and even with rush hour traffic it managed to in decently good time. "We'll go back to the hotel now and call it a day," he told the others. "This is going to be one of the shortest days of the tour, though. Over the next few weeks various sporting and entertainment events will be happening that we'll bring you to."
Di'not led the youngsters in nodding, while Mar'tov and Bri'lani did the same, all the walking a bit tiring after the long shuttle flight. "Thank you, P.J. Ritter, for the tour" said Mar'tov, smiling, then, remembering the human custom, holding out his hand to shake Ritter's. "If I read the itinerary correctly, we will be starting tomorrow at something you called 1000 hours, correct?"
Ritter nodded and accepted Mar'tov's hand. "Yes, Senior Executive. Ten o'clock, as we call it in the civilian world."
Mar'tov nodded, as the bus arrived and the youngsters were chivvied on board, the trip back to the hotel was uneventful, and Hoya had arranged for some Zohan style rations to be delivered from the shuttles stores so that they could eat something that they were comfortable with. The youngsters ate the bland food with gusto, apart from Di'not, who had been the youngster who most liked the human food.
"P.J. Ritter, what on this menu would you recommend? I am grateful for the rations, but I did enjoy that Hot Dog that we had for lunch and would like to sample some other human cooking."
"Hmm..." Ritter gave the subject a deal of thought. "Well, why not try out a hamburger then? And then we'll talk about cheeseburgers."
Di'not nodded, and went and purchased a hamburger from the hotel room service. A bit gingerly, as even though she was the most adventurous eater there she still had qualms about the whole concept of 'flavor' in food, she ate it, with some ribbing from the other Zohan which only seemed to encourage her.
After dinner, the Zohan gathered in the room shared by Mar'tov and Bri'loni, all the youngsters bringing their handcomps. This particular room had been fitted with a full trideo projector, which Mar'tov activated and used as a study aid. The entire group then set to, speaking at the typical Zohan mile a second manner, a steady drone of words without pause or break that lasted for hours, as the Mentor's and the Passager's discussed what they had seen, what lessons were to be drawn, on topics ranging from history to engineering to art, to food, to such mundane topics as grass and reflecting pools and on and on.
Shu'rio was sitting by the rooms data terminal, along with Di'not, and the two girls spent much of the evening doing searchs on the terminal, downloading data and sharing it with the group, all the while participating in the discussion. Several hours after they started talking, however, Di'not suddenly stood up, gesturing to Mar'tov and then to the terminal. The older Zohan came over, listening, then straightened. The youngsters quieted down, as Shu'rio pressed the button on the terminal with the volume raised.
For the next fourteen and a half minutes the Zohan were silent, as first music, and then the sonorous voice of James Earl Jones washed over them, the two girls having found a recording of Aaron Copelands 'Portrait of Lincoln'. For almost ten minutes after the recording ended the Zohan were silent, just sitting their, thinking. Finally the Zohan started talking again, after the two girls had transferred the file to their handcomp to save it.
They spent another hour or so talking, during which the two girls found several more items of interest, which they gave to Mar'tov. Then the Zohan scattered to their own rooms, although having as much cubage as they were getting was extremely unusual to them, used to the dense bunkroom style quarters that were the norm on Zohan ships.