Queem drifted to the view screen, a hiss of annoyance escaping as he bumped against the bed where Ricardo Alvarez lay.
"Weak gravity on this world. Impossible to deal with."
He touched the viewscreen controls, the image coming in clean, sharp. He watched the perspective change as Mr. Alvarez rocked back on his heels.
"Not used to such heights, I think," Queen said.
The Phridshfoen lived at the edges of huge cliffs. Even Queem would suffer vertigo there. He watched as Alvarez rocked forward again, beginning to stretch wings to either side.
Even on the rigid face of a Phridshfoen, it was possible to make out an expression of wonder.
The sharp cry uttered was translated by Queem's equipment.
"Damn!" said Ricardo Alvarez.
Queem touched another control, just in time. Alvarez looked like he was about to try out his wings.
The body on the bed moved, shifted and opened its eyes.
"Slowly, Mr. Alvarez,” Queem said, his voice a deep rumble in the small room. “Slowly, this first time."
Alvarez looked at the ceiling for a moment and then sat up. He shook his head, looking around the room. Queem watched as the human stretched his arm out in front of him, confusion on his face.
"No wings," said Alvarez.
"No wings," Queem confirmed.
He stood there, squat, bulky, blue while Alvarez adjusted to his surroundings.
"Well," he asked, "was it as you expected?"
Alvarez looked at him, then looked again at his own arms.
"They fly there? They can fly?" He looked at Queem. "I could have flown there? For real?"
"You were a Phridshfoen," Queem said. "They live on a planet at the edge of the galaxy. And yes, they fly. The gravity on their world is less than here, far less than on my world." He paused. "I think even I could fly there."
Alvarez laughed. “It would take more than that to get you off the ground, Queem."
"No need to be insulting, Mr. Alvarez. I don't believe your slight frame would survive my world."
Alvarez held up his hands. “Don’t go getting all upset," he said. "You're just packed a little more solid than we are here. Now," he continued, "was that real?"
Queem nodded. "Yes, it was real. You were there. The Phridshfoen was...somewhere else."
"OK," Alvarez said. "So why such a short time? You said ten minutes. That wasn't any ten minutes."
Queem bent to check the console settings. Even though he had a massive frame, he possessed fine tentacles that could be used for the most subtle adjustments.
"The demonstration,” he said, “was for a short time interval. They are difficult."
“How so?" Alvarez said. "If it's a short time, shouldn't it be easier?"
"No," said Queem. "Longer periods are always easier, and it's not helped by your strange calculation system."
"What calculation system?” Alvarez asked.
"Ten sixtieths of one twenty-fourth of your planet's rotation on its axis? And that only an approximation. How did you ever devise such a scheme?"
Queem turned to Alvarez again. "And why didn’t you change it for something sensible?"
Alvarez shrugged. "It works for us. So, you couldn't work it out?"
Queem made a hiss of annoyance. "Of course I worked it out. I simply translated it to ten sixtieths of one twenty-fourth of the Phridshfoen home world's rotation."
“Why was it so short?"
"Their world rotates faster than yours," Queem replied. "That's all."
"Salesmen," Alvarez said. "You've an answer for everything." He pointed at the console. "So, how’s it work?"
"Do you plan to go into business, Mr. Alvarez, as my competitor?" Queem asked. He adjusted a setting on the console. “You’ll find the technology beyond that available on your planet."
Alvarez shook his head. "No, I didn't mean that."
"Then?" asked Queem.
"What I meant was, what happens? When I'm gone, I mean. What happens to me? To my body?"
"Oh that," Queem said. "What happens to you is that you are gone, hosted within another being's body, as when you were a Phridshfoen. Your body," Queem pointed a tentacle at Alvarez, “is available for the time period you are...away.”
"A timeshare," Alvarez said. "That's what you called it."
Queem nodded. "The term is essentially correct."
“And nothing bad’ll happen to my body while I’m somewhere else?"
"Mr. Alvarez," Queem said, "I would not be long in business if I damaged the...goods...I have to trade, would I?"
Alvarez shook his head. "No, I suppose not." He looked down a moment, and then raised his eyes to Queem again. "So, while I'm away, for two weeks, say, there’ll be someone else using my body, someone from out there?"
“Perhaps,” said Queem. "Someone else will, or might, have use of your body while you’re away."
“Might?” Alvarez asked.
“My business is new on this planet, Mr. Alvarez. The availability is not widely advertised."
"So, I've getting in on the ground floor you’d say?" Alvarez asked.
Queem looked at him. "We are on the ground floor, Mr. Alvarez. I don’t think the upper floors would hold me."
"No," said Alvarez, "I mean I’m the first. So you can offer me a good deal."
"Oh," said Queem, "I understand now. Yes. This is an opening offer. There is usually an exchange of valuable commodities, in addition to the availability of the traveller's body. For you, because you are the first, this is waived."
Alvarez smiled. "Sign me up."
Queem paused until he realized Alvarez's words signified assent.
"Very well, Mr. Alvarez. You are 'signed up' for fourteen three hundred and sixty fifths of your planet's orbit about its primary. This is agreeable?"
Alvarez frowned. "You mean two weeks? Fourteen days?"
"I imagine I do," Queem answered. "Fourteen of your day-units, yes."
"Somewhere warm. It's cold here in winter," Alvarez said.
"Oh yes," Queem said. "The planet is quite hot. You will be a--," he paused and consulted his console, "--an Anleethen, I believe is the closest sound to your language. A powerfully-built species, even more than my own."
Alvarez let out a whistle. "A big mother, wow."
“No,” Queem said. "This Anleethen is male, as you are."
Alvarez waved his hand. "No, I didn't mean...ah, it doesn't matter. OK. Hook me up and let me start my vacation."
Queem flicked a switch on the console and sent Alvarez on his way to the fire prison of Laethann. He checked the calculations. Laethann was quite far from its primary star. Alvarez would be away for ten Earth years. The Anleethen crime families paid well for others to serve out their sentences.
Queem looked over at Alvarez’s body. This planet provided such opportunity for business.