Blog Entries, Short Story, Writing

The Souvenir

Karen Vertigan © Copyright 2007 by Karen Vertigan. All Rights Reserved.

The first thing I thought upon waking was why am I still alive? The second thing I thought was the Harrison Space Ship Company was so going to hear from me and I would hate to be the CEO when they got my message. The third thing I thought was that I could really use a cup of real coffee and not that fake processed stuff they put in these lousy crafts. The fourth, and probably the most important question I had, was what the hell had gone wrong.

There were back up systems on back up systems. System redundancy was almost at extreme levels. Failure was supposed to be impossible.

But, maybe something else happened. Maybe it wasn’t craft failure at all. Maybe I hit something. Maybe something stopped me.

The emergency light glowed, and that thing would shine for an eternity. No comfort emanated from its cold stark light.

The life raft system automatically encased me in a tight cocoon that was designed to save my life, but not designed to keep me very happy, emotionally. The designers of the life raft had no aesthetics, whatsoever. A functional piece of equipment, only.

I did a quick sweep of the craft, visually. Too dark to see to the far sides where the emergency light didn’t reach. So, I did a sweep with the tiny sensor inside the life raft. Ok. I still had atmosphere, so I shut off the raft’s atmo and opened the face plate. Everything smelled all right inside my craft. No fires or melting equipment.

I spent the next fifteen minutes getting out of the raft. Anyone who has ever gone through the drill knows what a pain it is to extricate yourself. Still, it’s better than staying inside one of those claustrophobic contraptions. The extrication process reminded me of being born. Creepy. But, I noted it was easier to extricate myself in microgravity than it had been in the training facility on Chryse Planitia.

Finally, out of the cocoon and in the omnidirectional emergency light. Why were they so harsh and glaring? This would get annoying very rapidly.

Stowing the raft took me another half hour, but I had to get it out of the way so I could figure out what happened. Carefully returning the raft to its compartment meant I could put off running diagnostics for another few minutes. I know all the basic stuff. Everyone did. Anything beyond a singed wire or loose connector meant I am completely out of my league and I would have to call for a rescue. I had never heard of anyone ever having to do that and I didn’t want to be the first.

A touch on the master reset and the emergency light shut down in the same instant the normal cabin lights came back on. I heard the familiar hum of machinery and electronics. All right, the first hurdle was completed.

I reluctantly sat back in the chair, knowing if the systems failed again, I would be encased in the life raft, again.

Diagnostics showed nothing out of the ordinary. Everything worked perfectly. That should make me happy, right? Why did I feel like I encountered only the eye of the hurricane? Scarcely breathing, I waited a full ten minutes before I started to relax. In that time, I checked and rechecked the systems in my craft. Still, the computer could find nothing wrong.

Next, I ran the star charts trying to figure out where in the galaxy the craft stopped. The system wasn’t the Capella local star group, my destination. Point of fact, the craft wasn’t in a planetary system or star group at all. Rather, it hovered near nothing or rather that region between stars and planets where there are thin bands of hydrogen gas or stellar dust and little else. No cause for alarm because the Capella local star group was only twenty light years away. All I had to do was to get Fantasii going again.

I got out of the chair and looked around the entire inside of the craft, hoping to find nothing out of place before I engaged the time dilation drive. Nor was I disappointed. Everything was properly arranged and neatly captured by the cabinets and drawers and compartments. My recreational craft would keep me comfortable and happy for weeks. I have enough food, water and oxygen for a minimum of twelve weeks, far longer than most vacations lasted.

The time had come to get this craft moving. I sent the squirt to Chryse Planitia on Mars, to Aramis Station on Capella α 4, and a personal message to Doyle to his home in Florida, Mulitnational State of EuroAmerica, on Earth telling them my entire situation.

Without warning, I was knocked out of the chair by an impact and I fell off the control platform. Why did I fall, at all? Fantasii had everything a person needs to survive while on vacation except gravity. I should never fall.

My cheek hit the deck plate and I really did see stars and my left wrist ached terribly. I hesitated looking at it, but when I did, none of the bones looked out of place. OK. Probably not broken. When I got to Capella, a doc could take a look to be certain. I struggled to stand up and was thrown to the deck plate again. I distinctly heard the clanking of metal on metal and I felt movement, as if my craft was picked up by a giant hand and placed on a conveyor.

The angle was slightly off of Earth normal and I began to feel a little nauseous while I struggled to orient my brain to the sudden gravity and the sloping deck. At least, with my stomach lurching, I didn’t have time to be frightened or to wonder what was happening to my little craft. I was far too concerned with the possibility of throwing up my lunch.

The movement stopped, but not the gravity.

Photo by David Cadenas on Unsplash

I attempted to stand and found it only a little difficult on the canting floor panel.

Next I looked out of plasglas port and saw them.

I know it sounds simple when I write it that way, but I think my poor brain just couldn’t handle any more sensory input that was so far off normal. The three people who peered into the port were green. Really green, like ripe olives. Their paler green hair was fluffy and reminded me of feathers. They seemed to be proportioned correctly, with two arms, two legs, two eyes, one nose, one mouth, but they were taller and broader than a normal human. I guess what I am saying is, they were not human. I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to what they are. 

They were all dressed in a different costume, but they were similar in design. One wore a white tunic with blue pants and white shiny boots that reminded of old style patent leather. The tunic had short sleeves and big blue buttons down the front. It reached the creature’s mid thigh. The blue pants clung to the legs giving me a good look at their shape. There seemed nothing out of the ordinary about their configuration. 

The shorter of the three had a short sleeved fitted blouse of a shiny black fabric that looked like Lurex. This one’s pants were also blue, but a much darker shade and they were loose fitting. This one wore flat black mules on its feet. 

The tallest of the three wore green. A green shirt that reminded me of a t-shirt with long sleeves and dark green pants that were partly covered by knee high black boots that seemed to have a lot of large silver closures down both sides. I couldn’t resolve gender, so they all could have been male, or female for that matter.

They talked to each other, but of course, I couldn’t hear what they were saying. I tried to remember the protocols for greeting aliens. No one ever had met a real non-terrestrial intelligent life form, so I really didn’t pay much attention during the classes, thinking at the time, this would never happen to me. I was going to totally ruin first contact. I had a sick feeling that I would do everything wrong. They seemed to be excited or agitated. I really couldn’t make that determination.

I knew they could see me, so I waved at them, a tentative small wave that meant everything and nothing.

The three stopped talking and looked at each other as if they were trying to see which one would offer an explanation for the gesture. For all I know I just gave them all a very rude gesture that insulted their mothers. Only after the wave did I remember that they told us to not make any gestures of that nature because we simply didn’t know what they would mean to another culture.

I realized I didn’t want to be an ambassador.

The three moved out of my line of sight and I could hear thumping on the outside of the craft. Were they trying to get in?

In a moment of panic, I climbed back into the chair and did a sensor sweep of the outside and found it to be an oxygen nitrogen atmo, very similar in levels to Earth’s atmo. Only the oxygen levels were low, so out there would be similar to standing on an eight thousand foot high plateau.

I must have been in a craft of some kind because there was no planet or moon in the area when I did my sweep to determine my location. But, my sensor sweep also didn’t detect a craft of any kind.

Suddenly, I had a choice. I could open the door and let the green people into my craft or I could hide inside, being fairly certain they couldn’t get inside because the craft was still in flight mode, which meant the piezoelectric skin sealed the hatch. I glanced at the status field on the control panel and realized I was still in stealth mode, too, which meant the craft should have been virtually invisible to the naked eye, but my guess was it could only be seen with a sensor array.

I hesitated for a moment and then shut off the stealth feature, revealing the hatch to anyone who was interested.

They knocked, just like a human would do.

I didn’t jump up and run to the hatch, but rather took time to put on my boots and to pull a pale pink tunic over my bright pink skin suit. I looked like a little girl with pink boots and pink clothes, but for all I knew pink was a power color for these guys. I combed my short brunette hair, decided to not put on additional make up and brushed my teeth. While I prepared for my first meeting with an alien society, I accessed my PC to find any information on first contact. I felt rather than heard the faint whirring as the PC that was embedded in my head worked to answer my query. A squirt gave me a lot of information and I would have to trust those who were more intelligent than me to give me advice about how best to proceed.

Why me? Why not someone else?

I pushed the sensor pad and the hatch slowly opened and I heard music. It wasn’t Earth music, but it was definitely music with an odd beat and strange sounding instruments. It was probably canned unless these guys took a band with them everywhere they went.

All three of them were standing outside of the door, not really moving. No one held anything that I would interpret as a weapon, so I slowly exited the craft, careful not to make any threatening gestures.

I stood about two meters from the three and looked them over as they did to me. None of us ventured any closer to each other. Now, what?

A claxon noise sounded and the three glanced at each other nervously. It scared the star dust out of me and they didn’t miss my startled motions or the fact that I took several steps backward toward the comfort of my craft.

As I looked around for the source of the sudden claxon, I discovered what I had not paid attention to, yet. I was inside a huge area that seemed to be filled with a variety of objects that I couldn’t even guess what their function may be. They were hanging from a metal framework in the center of the craft and on platforms at various levels in the huge room. In the distance, I could see others moving around the objects doing things I couldn’t guess at, but I assumed was a daily job. I turned around and saw the Fantasii was on a platform like a lot of other things, crafts, satellites?

“I wish I knew what was going on, here.” I said to myself and to anyone listening, although I was certain the three had no idea what I said.

They looked at each other. The one in the middle nudged the tallest one and then generally pointed in my direction. The tallest one took a step in my direction and said something.

The language didn’t sound even remotely similar to anything we had on Earth or on any of the Colonies or Stations or Moon Bases, well, you understand. These green guys were totally alien. Then I paused in my thinking for a moment. I was the alien. I was the one who didn’t belong. And for all I knew, the tallest green guy may have just told me he was going to eat me for lunch.

He placed his hand in the center of his chest and said something that sounded like “Sam.” I didn’t know if that was his name or if he was announcing his race. Ok. I am human and therefore, generally very self-centered. Being human, I would assume he told me his name. The least I could do is to return the gesture.

I touched my own chest and said, “Maggie.” That seemed easier than saying “Mary Margaret Shannon O’Herlihy.”

The medium one touched his chest and said, “Blaze,” and the shortest one said, “Reed.”

Now what? I repeated their names, pointing at the correct individual. “Sam, Blaze, Reed.”

Sam pointed to me and said “Maggie,” although it sounded more like “Mayzhee.” Maybe Mary would have been easier for them to pronounce. So, me Tarzan, you Jane was over. What happened next?

Finally, a female approached. She was as tall as Sam and was dressed in a similar fashion, wearing a black short sleeved t-shirt and black pants that fell to just below her knees. Her feet were clad with black mules that were very similar to the ones Reed wore. Her green feather hair was longer and paler than the male’s hair and her breasts were high and full.

Blaze began talking to her in his rapid, unintelligible speech. She watched me while he spoke to her and then she said, “Yorie,” while pointing at her own chest. I repeated my name for her and she repeated it by saying “Mayzhee.” OK. I learned the hard gee sound in Anglish was beyond their capability.

She reached toward my arm and I instinctively moved out of her reach. My panic returned in full force and I suddenly found it really hard to breathe. I was on vacation. I designed clothes. How did I get to be an interstellar ambassador? I didn’t want the job. I wanted to go back inside Fantastii and continue to my sister’s home on Capella α 4. I wanted to be back home with Doyle and my horses. Why did I let him talk me into going to Capella by myself?

She flashed some teeth in my direction and I wondered if that was their equivalent of a smile. I smiled back, however, I wouldn’t bet that it was my friendliest smile. Instead of trying to touch me she gestured and I took that to mean that I should follow her. The three men began bobbing up and down from their knees and their arms flapped a little. I didn’t feel threatened by them at all, so I took that to mean yes, or encouragement.

I walked in the direction of the much taller female—she was at least 8 feet tall—and realized that the gravity on this craft was less than Earth’s gravity. Maybe that’s why they grew so tall. There was less gravity holding them back. Because I was gradually becoming aware of my surroundings, I noticed the lights were tinted yellow, more yellow that is normal for Earth. I wondered if that was in imitation of their sun. Humans tended to duplicate Earth normal conditions everywhere, and these beings may do that, too with their gravity preference and their lighting.

I tried to follow Yorie, but she waited until I passed her before she started walking in the direction she had indicated I should go.

The craft was nearly a complete sphere, just like mine, except mine was about fifteen meters in diameter and this one was almost too big to calculate, maybe several hundred meters. When I looked closer, I could see that the gravity was along the outside edge because beings walking on platforms over my head were head down from my particular orientation. That was disorienting to me and I was suddenly assailed with vertigo. There was a handrail at about my shoulder height and I gratefully grabbed it, as I had seen Yorie do in a movement that seemed unconscious and habitual.

Everything seemed to be painted a different color and I felt like I was in a cosmic circus. It was hard to take in all the visuals because it looked more like a jigsaw puzzle with none of the matching pieces close together. Even that was wrong. To human eyes, there seemed to be no regularity or continuity. I concentrated on the walkway before me, instead, although the whole thing was colored in overlapping circles in every color imaginable.

I continually looked over my shoulder to make sure Yorie was still with me as we neared a compartment. When we were close, she said something and I turned to look at her. She made a sign with her hands indicating that I should wait. I think.

She stepped in front of me and opened the door to the compartment. The door was completely round, unlike most things humans created that tended toward rectangular lines. She stepped over the small lip and waited for me to enter.

This was a corridor that had a rounded ceiling like a barrel vault. All along the walls on both sides were pictures of beings with green faces and some symbols underneath each one that were arranged in a circle. I presumed it was a name or a title. The wall was painted with overlapping circles of every color and shade I could think of. Round yellow lights dotted the interior surface in apparently random order.

Yorie ignored the portraits. I stopped suddenly when I saw a portrait of my guide. Or if it wasn’t Yorie, it was a close relative. She saw me looking at the likeness and I pointed to her with one hand the portrait with the other hand. “Is that you?” I asked.

She bobbed up and down from her knees, then touched the likeness with her long slender fingers and said, “Yorie.” And then she added a lot more that I couldn’t guess at. I found Blaze, then Reed, then Sam and named each of them. She smiled and bobbed at the knees.

She motioned and I followed her, again.

We entered a larger spherical room with three more people inside. She pointed toward an older male—older in that he had a mature appearance, and said “Mack.” The older, more mature female she said was, “Darmo,” and then another young male was, “Hat.” She pointed to me and said, “Mayzhee.”

The oldest male began talking to me and I couldn’t even guess what he was saying. Then, he showed me a display that was obviously a star chart. I didn’t know if he wanted me to tell him where I came from or where I was going. I opted to see if I could find Sol on the chart. Their display wasn’t too different from mine, expect theirs was three dimensional while mine was still an old 2D display. I studied the chart for a few moments to get my bearings and then I pointed to Sol. The man passed his hand over a sensor array that flashed in many different colors and the display showed a close-up of the Sol system. I nodded and then pointed to the sun and said “Sol.” Each of the eight planets I named in order, “Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune.” I touched Mars again and myself. “Mars is my home. I live in Chryse Planitia.”

I heard my voice played back for me, but I couldn’t tell from which direction. Then the man then pointed to the sun and said, “Sol.” I nodded, again. Then, he pointed to each of the planets and named them.

The display changed and he showed me a system that was in the Bootes system. Mack pointed toward Alpha Bootis and said, “Panna.” Then the fifteen planets showed in the system and he named each of the planets and then named the fifth planet, a small rocky terrestrial, “Baltimore” At least that’s what it sounded like to me. So, there was a planet named Baltimore in the Alpha Bootis system. I pointed to his star and said, “Arcturus.” He repeated the word and then smiled his toothy smile. Apparently Mack liked our name for his star.

He spoke to Yorie for a few minutes and then looked at me and touched the top of his head in a gesture that meant heaven only knows what. She opened the circular door and led me out. Once in the corridor, she allowed me to go first.

Within two minutes I was back at my craft and she pointed to the door. I stepped inside and she didn’t try to enter with me. The three men, Sam, Blaze and Reed were still there and they four just watched me. Yorie put her hands together slowly, like a door closing. I nodded and she bobbed up and down. Yes and yes.

I closed the door and heard the metal on metal clanging again and within a few minutes, I was free floating inside my craft. Fantasii was in the void, once again. I saw the immense sphere where I had recently been a guest floating away from me and growing smaller in the view port until I couldn’t see it at all.

Was that it?

Was there nothing else?

I was in the presence of aliens for only a few minutes… less than an hour and they were gone as quickly as they arrived. Who were they and what did they want? What did they do? Why were they thirty light years from Arcturus?

I felt a little uneasy because I told Mack where I come from. Should I tell someone? Would they even believe me if I could figure out who I should tell? I barely believed it myself. Hi, everyone. I met a craft full of eight foot tall green people with feathers instead of hair. Yeah, people would believe that. On the other hand, they didn’t seem like invaders. I would guess it was a salvage operation of some kind, but I could be totally wrong.

I began the power up sequence to continue to Capella α 4.

Before I engaged the time dilation drive, I received a squirt from Doyle. “Are you all right? Is there a problem with your craft? What is going on? Do you need rescue? We can be there in a couple of hours.”

I began a reply, telling him all about the green people. I didn’t finish before I erased it and replied, “Everything is fine. Just stopped to see the sites. On my way to Capella.”

A movement caught my eye and I reached out to pluck a portrait of the people I had seen on the craft out of the air. Mack, Darmo, Hat, Reed, Sam, Blaze, Yorie and some others I didn’t recognize were in the picture that was on a piece of metal and looked enameled rather than a photo.

I smiled at my souvenir, and then put it in the thigh pocket of my skin suit. In the years to come, when I thought my trip simply a dream, I could remind myself of them with my picture. I wondered if they would forget me? I should have given them a picture of me. Maybe they had some cameras or something on board and someday I would find my picture in the corridor with all the others.

I engaged the drive and was once again on my way to Capella α 4.

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