Rynnden’s gullet churned. They preened their shoulder feathers and inhaled deeply from their supplementary respirator. “I see everyone’s here, so —”
Five other delegates in five separate rectangles frantically waved appendages.
“Rynnden, you’re muted.”
Rynnden unmuted. “Asymptotic giants, you’d think I’d remember that! Can everyone hear me?”
Nods, head circles and tentacle waggles. One rectangle showed a spaceship control room with a semi-aquatic biped who bellowed, “NO, OTHER CRATER, ONE WITH GAPPED RIM!”
“Delat! You’re unmuted!”
Delat blushed magenta.
Delat to everyone: SORRY!
Rynnden began again. “Our goal today is to finalize the orbit reallocation proposal —”
They were interrupted by a human whose black skin was sprinkled with stars. “Excuse me, Rynnden?” She absent-mindedly stroked the tail of the feline taking up most of her camera’s foreground.
“Could you please share the last meeting’s minutes again?”
Rynnden expelled nitrogen. “Of course. Link in the chat. Everyone else good?” Hearing no objections, they continued. “You were tasked to survey your teams for feedback on the draft proposal. Let’s find out what everyone heard. Xix?”
Xix bowed a sleek, reptilian head and hissed. The auto-captioning read: Er, sorry. It’s been really busy, with the conjunction and all. I didn’t get to it.
Rynnden exhaled argon. “Understood. Abseq?”
Abseq’s rectangle lit up. High-frequency feedback screeched through five audio systems. Abseq gestured with a tentacle and the sound cut off.
“Sorry,” Abseq said. “Is that better?”
“Yes, please go ahead.”
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“Thank you. Our guild is unequivocally opposed to the proposal,” Abseq said in a voice pitched high by atmospheric helium. “We think it’s completely unfair that the Venusians are assigned the polar terminator orbits while we’re relegated to low-altitude equatorial. We’ll have to dodge the elevator cables every other revolution.”
On audio-only, Burt broke in. “That’s not exactly correct, Abseq. If your guild astrogators examine the details, they’ll see that your orbits are in a three-to-two resonance with the cables. You’ll only have to execute corrections every 72 hours.”
Abseq’s tentacles knotted. “I am the guild’s chief astrogator, Burt. I know exactly how orbital resonances work. Close encounters every few days are still unacceptable.”
“What was the Venusian response, Burt?” Rynnden asked.
A grunting sound issued from Burt’s audio feed. “We’re disappointed in the rudimentary nature of the proposal. More sophisticated orbital dynamics simulations should lead to a much more elegant solution …”
Burt’s video activated, revealing a full-body view of the pale-skinned human wearing none of the customary human clothing. Mira shuddered. Abseq screeched. The auto-caption translated Xix’s hiss as: What is *that*?
“Burt! Your video!”
The human gaped into his camera, skin colour resembling Delat’s. His rectangle quickly changed to black and he coughed. “As I was saying, a more sophisticated consideration —”
“— would yield what, exactly?” Abseq interrupted. “Even better orbits for you?”
“Um, we don’t know,” Burt said. “We’re discussing whether to use Python 78.4 or 79.1 for our simulations, so we … haven’t actually started yet.”
Rynnden’s hackles rose. “Burt, the proposal is due in two planetary revolutions. This is supposed to be our final meeting.”
Mira to everyone: Just like a human male. All talk.
Mira to everyone: Oops, sorry. That was meant just for Abseq.
Burt appeared on video, clothed and glaring into his camera.
Burt to everyone: Amateur.
Burt to everyone: Oops, sorry. That was meant just for Mira.
Rynnden rustled feathers. “I’d like to remind everyone that we have a code of conduct. Mira, let’s hear from you,” they said. “What was the Atiran League’s response?”
“We discussed the proposal thoroughly,” she said, “and unfortunately we couldn’t come to a consensus. Half of our membership thought the proposal was acceptable; the rest wanted to consider other options.”
Rynnden resisted the urge to snap their beak. “And does the League have any specific options to propose?”
Delat unmuted again and roared, “NO, DECREASE INCLINATION, NEED NEGATIVE DELTA-V!”
The screen flashed ultraviolet as Rynnden muted all the other participants. Staring into the camera, Rynnden spoke slowly, crest bobbing in emphasis with every word.
“I. Have. Had. Enough. Of. This. Nonsense. We have half an orbital period to complete this proposal. You’re all acting like we have a Galactic year, and you are wasting everyone’s time.”
On video, Burt opened his mouth and closed it again, Delat faded to peach, and Abseq’s tentacles stilled. Mira’s eyes were downcast and Xix’s nictitating membranes blinked slowly.
Rynnden continued. “Revised orbit allocations matter more to you than to me. Do you want to complete this proposal or not?”
The others remained silent while demonstrating species-appropriate expressions of shock, dismay and embarrassment.
“I’m taking that as confirmation that you want to continue,” Rynnden said. “OK. Breakout rooms.
“Abseq, Burt. Work out your differences in a side discussion. You have a quarter orbital period to propose a solution.” Two boxes disappeared from the screen. “Xix and Delat, develop a way to get rapid feedback from your people so it can be incorporated into the proposal.” Two more boxes disappeared. “Mira, you and I will discuss possible options for the Atiran League’s consideration.” The human’s cat leapt onto her lap and licked the camera.
A third of an orbital period later, six boxes were back on the screen. Abseq and Burt were finishing an animated-but-friendly conversation about plane-change manoeuvres, Xix and Delat were both rapidly manipulating their manual input devices, and Mira was reading her screen and murmuring to her cat.
“Well done, all,” Rynnden said. “With a few final edits, we will have a proposal ready for submission to the coordination council.”
“THANK YOU RYNNDEN,” Delat roared. “COLLISION-FREE TRAVELS!”
“Thanks everyone,” Abseq squeaked.
Appendages oscillated in farewell.
Rynnden stared at their now-black screen. “I’m never running one of these committees again.”