Index > Observer
David E. Rutan
Copyright © 1999 David E. Rutan
A novel of approximately 72,500 words
The hyperspace jump was like nothing Linda had previously experienced. When the count reached zero, the lights in the Pod dimmed and she felt an incredible yanking sensation in her gut. Then everything was quiet.
"You Idiot!" Linda yelled, scrabbling in the zero gravity over to Spencer. "You stupid idiot!" She grabbed his coverall and pulled him to her. "Do you know what you've done?" she screamed in his face. "Do you even have a clue?"
He remained impassive. "Of course I know. I wrote the system. We have just traveled approximately one light-day, or sixteen billion miles into interstellar space in a single jump."
Linda felt about to faint. She hadn't intended to become the first woman to travel beyond the solar system. She pushed him away, which sent her flying in the opposite direction.
She managed to grab the control couch and get into it. Quickly Linda fastened the harness and examined the controls. It made her feel in control.
Everything's nominal. Good, she thought, maybe we didn't actually make the jump. She switched on the radio, and pressed the transmit button, "This is Linda Prescott calling Lunacorp. Luna do you read me?"
Static flowed from the speaker. She repeated the message, but again was answered by static.
She turned to Spencer. "Did you do anything to this radio?"
He shook his head. Linda recorded her message and set it to repeat. Then she took stock of her situation.
"It'll take a few hours for the capacitors to charge," she said, "then we're going back."
"You can't do that," said Spencer. "The coordinates are erased. Without them you have little hope of getting back to Earth."
Damn him if he wasn't right. The vectors were purged from the system. She held no hope of getting home without his help.
"Alright then," she said folding her arms, "where are we going?"
"To Koplushia, of course," he said.
Linda despaired at the realization she was trapped with a madman. She made some mental calculations. "You do realize that at this rate it will take us four months to reach Alpha Centauri, the nearest star? I don't think we have enough air or food for that."
"I have no intention of going to Alpha Centauri," Spencer said. "All we need do is attract attention and the Alliance Space Guard should pick us up."
"The Space Guard?" his dementia was worse than she had imagined. "I suppose they roam the galaxy just looking for lost experimental ships from Earth."
"No," he said matter of factly, "but they can detect hyper-jumps. There's a good chance they'll investigate ours."
"And when they do, they'll just beam us up. Is that it?" she said.
He looked perplexed for a moment. "No. They'll bring us aboard. I'll tell them who I am and my life will go on."
"What life is that? What is it you do on Komplushia?"
He straightened his posture. "I'm an Observer for the Koplushian Council."
Linda pursed her lips trying to gather some meaning from his announcement. "What does that mean?" she said.
"It means," he folded his arms, his elbow bent around a rung of the ladder, "that I am trusted by our society to faithfully witness events."
This was too much for her. "Why does Komplushian society require such a post?" she said.
Spencer looked annoyed. "It's Koplushia, ko-ploo-shuh he said, "and we need Observers because any other form of media can be altered."
"What do you mean by that?"
Spencer stared at her in thought. Then he said, "The other night, I saw a lottery drawing on the television. The announcer said it was being observed by an auditing firm."
"Well, why should that be?" Spencer said.
"Auditing firms oversee lotteries so that they can't be faked."
"That's why my culture has Observers. We verify that events happened as recorded because almost anything can be falsified with technology."
Linda decided to change the subject. "Okay," she said, "what happens to me when we get there? Will they return me to Earth?"
Spencer looked at her for a moment. "That shouldn't be a problem, unless Earth is under protection status."
"Now what does that mean?" she wondered how convoluted this story was likely to get.
"Well, I don't know what planet Earth is as far as the Alliance is concerned. I tried researching to find its founding date and such, but your history only goes back about five thousand years."
"So?" This had better have a point, she thought.
"Judging by our similar racial characteristics," he said, "I believe Earth is a lost colony in the Normian sector. That's where my people originated. There are a lot of old colonies there."
Linda threw her hands into the air in disgust. "The UFO freaks have been saying stupid things like that for decades. It's rubbish. Humans evolved on Earth!" She thrust a finger downwards.
Spencer stayed quiet for a minute while she continued to examine the controls. Everything was as it should be. If only she could convince him to go back to Earth. He clearly needed help.
"What can you tell me about these yoo-eff-oh people. You've mentioned them a few times to me."
Linda rolled her eyes. How do you explain kooks to a kook? she wondered. "They're a bunch of people who say they've seen spaceships flying over the Earth," she said. "Some of them say they've been abducted and brought back."
"Really?" He sounded interested. "I wish I had known that before. There might be a connection."
"Connection to what?"
"To why I was abducted from my world and dumped onto yours. There has to be a reason behind it."
"Maybe when you get back they'll do the same thing again."
"Can't I make you understand?" he said, reaching over and pulling himself to the control couch. "I want my life back. I don't want to sit on Earth and feel like I'm reliving ancient history."
"Well, I don't want to sit out here until we run out of air." She was getting annoyed again. "Why don't you take me back to Earth and research the UFO's like you said?"
Spencer looked down, closed his eyes, and shook his head. "You know I won't do that, Linda. If we were to go back, you'd make sure I never got near this Pod again."
"On the other hand," she said looking at the console, "I think we're going right--Oh sh--""
Linda heard an explosion and blackness covered them. She felt centrifugal force pull at her. We must be in a spin, she thought.
Spencer call out, "What's happening?"
"I don't know!" she said. "It felt like an explosion."
"I knew it!" he yelled. "You Earthers shouldn't dabble in things you don't know about."
The lights returned dimly. Linda scanned the controls. "It looks like one of the hyper-generators blew up. We won't be able to make any more jumps." We're going to die out here, she thought.
Spencer made his way to the ladder and held fast to it as his legs dangled towards the hull of the Pod. "How's the reactor?" he said.
"It's shut down," she said. "We're on battery power now."
"How long will that last?" he said.
"About thirteen hours--if that," said Linda.
* * *
Spaselopedus clung to the ladder, feeling the centrifugal force pulling his legs outward. He pulled them in and climbed down to the main deck where Linda was still strapped to the control couch. If they were to be rescued, it would depend on their initial jump through hyperspace being detected.
He had resented her coming in and ruining his plans. Now Linda was trapped out in space with him and faced the same grim death.
It didn't matter to him that she mistreated him. She didn't deserve this fate, and it bothered him that he had a hand in it.
Linda was still sitting in the only couch at the controls. "I've used the thrusters to stop our spin," she said.
Spaselopedus let go of the ladder and floated towards Linda. He heard her sigh and whisper, "And now we wait for the end."
"There's still a good chance we'll be found".
"Why do you keep clinging to that story?" she swung the couch to face him. "You're just some nut." Her voice was harsh.
He didn't have any idea what to say to her. The truth was they might indeed perish from his folly. If they did, he'd be the one responsible. The prospect of living out his life on that backwater had caused him to activate his program even though Linda had entered the Pod.
She suddenly swung the couch back to the controls. Spaselopedus heard the faint sound of weeping. She's crying, he thought. What do I do now? His chivalric upbringing caused him to want to comfort her--this woman who obviously disbelieved and detested him.
"We're not going to die," he assured her. There was silence, until...
"Death runs in my family." Linda inhaled sharply and continued sobbing. Spaselopedus watched her shoulders convulse.
He crouched down, holding fast to the ladder with one hand, and turned her towards him.
"What do you mean by that?" he said in a gentle voice.
Her mouth contorted as she spoke between sobs. "First my dad, then my brother, then... Andrew, and... now me."
Compassion welled up in Spaselopedus' throat. He recalled the three pictures in Barbara's house.
He carefully wiped the tears from Linda's cheeks. Her skin was soft to the touch. He noticed her dark, almost black eyes. As he looked into them, he felt he might almost lose himself in their depth.
"Linda," he said, "everything will be all right."
She sniffed and looked back at him. Suddenly she looked away and rubbed her reddened eyes with her fingers, "I'm just being a silly, emotional woman, I guess."
"I don't think there's anything silly about being a woman," he said trying to soothe her. "I cried when I lost my parents, even at... my grandfather's... funeral."
She looked at him and said, "I had no idea."
Spaselopedus sighed and dropped his gaze downward. "My parents died in an accident when I was very young. I barely remember their faces. For most of my life, my grandfather raised me."
Linda's voice was soft. She lowered her gaze, "My father died when I was five, and Mark, he died in the war." She sniffed again. He looked up at her, fearing she might start sobbing again. She was turning the gold band on her fourth finger.
"I think I saw his picture in your mother's house. What war did he die in?"
Spaselopedus immediately felt he may have asked a stupid question and expected her to lash out again, but she simply answered, "The Oil War, of course."
Questions raced through his mind. Things he wanted to know but knew not to ask--not now. He must keep on track with making her feel better. After they were rescued, there would be time for questions.
"I'm sorry for your loss," he said.
"I feel worse for Mom," Linda said. "She'll be all alone now," her voice began to crack. She looked up at him, and her lower lip began to tremble.
Her doll-like face made her the more pitiful to him. He tried to find a way to distract her from this line of thought. "That's a nice ring," he said. "Where did you get it?"
Linda's response was totally unexpected. Her expression changed from sorrow to anger. She inhaled deeply and glared at him.
"What kind of a dope are you?" she yelled. "This is my wedding ring. Andrew gave it to me!"
Spaselopedus despaired as he saw tears begin moistening her eyes again. Angst knotted his stomach. He felt helpless standing before her doing nothing. Her words had stung him, "I'm sorry," he said.
Linda simply began crying again, covering her face with her hands. "I hate you!" She violently shook her head as she said the words. In the weightlessness, tears flew from her face in every direction.
"Linda," he said, "I--"
"Go away!" she cried. "I want to die alone."
Spaselopedus was completely at odds with this situation. He obviously wasn't succeeding in pacifying her. She was sobbing quietly now and he decided it might be best to leave her alone.
He reached over, took hold of the ladder, and pulled himself upwards. He halted at the top of the ladder and looked down at her. There was nothing to do but wait.
He crawled through the hole leading to the upper deck. There were numerous empty cartons strewn about, probably from the various components of the control systems.
Spaselopedus flattened a few of the cartons and laid down on them. He found himself bouncing around in the absence of gravity, and it disturbed him. He located a few straps and fastened himself and the cartons to the deck.
Spaselopedus awoke to Linda's voice below. "Hey, wake up, it's time to die!"
He realized it was bitter cold and he was in near-darkness. His mind felt numbed and was reluctant to function.
"What happened?" His voice felt weak as well.
"The heaters are gone--not enough power," she answered.
Spaselopedus didn't have a clue what to do now. Even if there was enough air for a few days, without heat, the cold of space would finish them.
He remembered seeing people on the newscast on Luna sleeping in cardboard boxes to keep warm in the cold. Spaselopedus began shoving the cartons through the ladder hole.
"Hey, what's up?" yelled Linda. "That hit me!"
"Sorry!" he said, continuing his work. "We have to keep warm. We can insulate ourselves in these."
He brought a roll of tape down with him when he finished with the cartons. Spaselopedus and Linda gathered them up and constructed a box large enough for both of them.
"I suppose we should get in," said Linda, hugging herself against the cold.
"I guess so," he said. "These coveralls don't have much insulation value do they?"
After a moment's hesitation, Linda pulled herself up and into the box. He followed her, careful to avoid hitting her with his feet.
The close quarters and darkness made Spaselopedus uneasy. From past experiences, he expected Linda to lash out at him at any moment.
"Well," he said.
"Well, here we are," she answered.
"It isn't very warm in here is it?"
"I suppose you think we should try to conserve our heat by getting closer." Her voice was sarcastic and distant.
Spaselopedus couldn't see Linda at all in the box. He was cold, and knew she must be too.
"It will increase our chances of survival if we do," he said, almost as an apology.
There was a minute of silence, broken only by the sound of Linda's occasional huffing. She was obviously thinking things over.
Spaselopedus reached out slowly and gingerly put his arms around her. At first she remained stiff like a mannequin, but soon Linda reciprocated his embrace.
She didn't hug him firmly, more as if they were dancing. Her head rested on his shoulder. As he held her, he was aware of the sweet smell of her hair and the softness of her breasts pressing into his chest. The rest of her was hard and muscular.
Spaselopedus didn't move for fear of her accusing him of trying something. He listened to her steady breathing in the darkness. Finally Linda's soft snoring broke the silence.
It was incredible she could sleep in this situation. It was so cold, but the sound had a soporific effect on him. Soon he found himself closing
his eyes. Spaselopedus made a vow to himself. If we get out of this I'll do everything I can to get you home, Linda.
Dr. Scott Michaels was in his office at his desk. His head was in his hands. How could it happen?, he thought. How could they just take my life away? My life, my entire life was spent on that Pod. Now it's gone. My one chance to prove my theories. Gone. Linda, why did you do it? Why?
"Scott?" a voice broke in. Michaels recognized it as Samuel Carlson's. "Scott? " Carlson repeated grabbing his shoulder gently.
"What? Sam, leave me alone!" said Michaels.
"I'm not leaving," said Carlson. "I've got news."
"Good or bad?" he asked.
"Bad, I'm afraid. The radio signal from the Pod died out. That means the power's gone."
"So? So?" said Carlson, leaning over the desk. "How can you say that? This means two people are dead--frozen in space."
"They stole my life's work," Michaels said, his voice filled with anger and despair.
Carlson took his usual seat next to the water dispenser. "I don't think that's the answer, Scott. Why would anyone steal something for a one way trip to death? We lost two good people."
Michaels stole a sideways glance at Carlson, "I thought Oedipus was a little unstable. I think he went over the edge and Lin-- She got caught up in it." He wiped a tear from his cheek.
Carlson produced the folder he had brought in. "I don't know if you want to believe this, but I have a few shots from the big telescope you might want to see."
Michaels looked at him, "What are you talking about?"
Carlson placed the folder on the desk and proceeded to draw a cup of hot water from the dispenser. "I didn't think you'd want that circulated--at least not right off." He placed a teabag in the cup and leaned back in his seat.
The folder contained a photograph of the Pod in space. It wasn't a clear photo, but it was damning proof. Beside the Pod was a larger space vessel.
"Well, I'll be damned!" said Michaels rubbing his moustache with his thumb and forefinger.
* * *
Linda moaned. Experimentally she opened one eye and saw that she was in a room with strange light flooding in from somewhere--maybe the walls. The air was very humid, like a steam room. She was warm, in no pain, and comfortable. It was only when she attempted to stand that she realized that she was on a low, wide platform being held down by an invisible force of some kind.
"Oh my God," Linda cried, looking down at herself. "I'm naked!" She looked over and saw that Spencer was also without clothes and on a similar platform. She took a few deep breaths to calm herself. He was right, she thought. They had been rescued, but by whom?
"Spencer, wake up!" she said.
Spencer didn't stir. She tried again, a bit louder but he remained unconscious. She didn't know where they were, but she realized Spencer's plan had worked.
A shuffling sound coming toward the door drew her attention. She could also hear a sound like that of a drain clearing and a gurgling sound combined. Two creatures entered the room, "Oh my God!" she yelled at the sight of them.
Spencer moaned as he regained consciousness.
"Spencer," said Linda, "what are they? They look like huge green squids!"
He looked around the room, then over at her. Spencer gasped and quickly averted his eyes. "Don't panic Linda, we're safe. They're intelligent beings called Eruithairkans."
"Erui-what?" she said.
"Eh-roo-thair-kans," he repeated. "They inhabit the quadrant of the Alliance containing..."
Linda's attention went to the creatures approaching her. They had elongated heads with two large eyes. For locomotion they sported three stubby legs and three smaller three-fingered tentacles for dexterous functions. Each also possessed two larger arm/tentacles for heavy lifting. One alien was slightly larger than the other. The smaller one had a peculiar pattern of brown spots on its head.
The spot-headed alien came closer and leaned over the bed. Fear overwhelmed Linda. "Help, help, don't let it touch me!" She yelled.
Spot-head pulled back and gurgled to the other. The big squid gurgled back, and Spot shuffled over to a protrusion in the wall.
"Linda, take it easy," said Spencer. "We're safe. Remember that!" Linda regained her composure and saw Spot-head picking up a flat square and hold it for her to see. The square was filled with strange characters of different stylings.
"What's this?" she asked.
He craned his neck, being careful to look at only the card, "Those are probably languages. They're trying to communicate with us. Trust me. Play it cool," he said.
"Where's our clothing?"
"I don't know. Maybe they had to remove it to treat us. Who knows what kind of shape they found us in."
Spot-head went over and held the square for Spencer, "It reads: If you can understand this notify the Med-tech," he said.
"Tell him we want our clothing back," she said.
"I don't want them to know who I am," said Spencer.
"I've never trusted Eruithairkans," said Spencer. "They're an odd bunch. There should be some humans on the way to collect us. Let's wait for them to arrive."
"You really are from another planet?" she said.
"I did try to tell you." He smiled and looked straight up at the ceiling. Linda saw Spot-head take the square away from Spencer. It shuffled back to the wall and a tentacle reached out. Everything went black.
* * *
Lieutenant Troonai of Security on the Koplushian ship Cognizance stepped aboard the Eruithairkan vessel and stooped under the low ceiling, Askuit, he thought, can't they at least make taller corridors? He straightened his cap and brushed imaginary dust from his black tunic and cape. His silver rank insignia on his shoulders and the six pointed star of the Koplushian Alliance on his left breast were the only ornamentation.
He joined up with an Eruithairkan sporting a security badge and greeted him in Galacticom-gesture. "Greetings, I am Troonai of the Koplushian ship Cognizance. I am to report to your captain regarding the humans you've found."
The guard merely replied, "Follow me," and began shuffling down the corridor. He led Troonai to an elevator and down a few more corridors. The air in the Eruithairkan ship was heavy and humid. The Lieutenant was unsure how much longer he could stand to breathe it. Sure it was perfectly safe, but it made his lungs feel heavy and he didn't relish the idea of prolonged exposure.
They walked down a long corridor to a door. The guard touched a control and the door parted vertically. They entered the Captain's chamber: a large, oddly lit room with a large tub of steaming water in the center. The Captain sat in the tub, evidently oblivious to the newcomers.
"Greetings Captain," began Troonai. There was no response. The guard gurgled softly and the Captain's huge eyes turned towards them.
"Greetings," he began again, "I am Lieutenant Troonai from the Koplushian Ship Cognizance."
The Captain gave gestures in return this time. "Greetings Lieutenant, we were expecting you earlier."
"Yes sir," he bowed slightly, "we were delayed by one of your border patrols."
"They didn't give you much trouble I hope. One must protect one's borders, mustn't one?"
Troonai had no intention of having a political discussion with the Eruithairkan Captain. He wanted to collect the humans and return to the Cognizance. "What is the status of the humans?" he gestured.
The Captain heaved up out of the water in his tub and gestured back, "They are well and resting. They were near death when we brought them in, but our Med-tech is well versed in human medicine."
"And their ship?" said Troonai.
"A primitive thing, but interesting. We shall have it transferred to your ship before departure."
"Very good," said Troonai. "I'd like to see the humans now if I may."
The Captain made a rude slurping sound and the guard began shambling towards the door, stopping before Troonai long enough to gesture to him, "Follow me."
When they arrived at the medical section a small Eruithairkan awaited them. Lieutenant Troonai recognized the insignia of the Chief Medical Officer and signed to it in Galacticom-gesture.
"Greetings Med-tech, I am Troonai of the Koplushian ship, Cognizance. I have come to collect the humans you rescued." He covered his mouth to cough. The air was particularly oppressive in here.
"Ah, Human Troonai," the Med-tech gestured back, "you will find them in good health. We tried to communicate but they were uncomprehending."
"Please wake the patients," Troonai gestured. "I want to attempt communication with them myself."
"Very well," answered the Med-tech, shuffling through a doorway and over to a panel on the wall. He closed the contact, "The patients should now be conscious. You may attempt communication."
Troonai could hear the humans babbling to each other in some unknown gibberish. He walked through the doorway and stopped as he saw them. They were lying on the low beds with their backs turned away from one another. One was male, the other one, female. They were both naked.
Lieutenant Troonai immediately spun around and strode out of the ward. "Couldn't you have covered them with something?" he said as forcefully as he could in gesture. They looked like animals, sitting there naked like that, he thought.
"But why?" said the Med-tech. "It is sufficiently warm here."
Troonai was wracked with a coughing fit, "It is customary for my species to wear clothing." Troonai activated the com-band on his shoulder, "Troonai to Cognizance."
"Cognizance here," came the answer.
"Have the Quartermaster send over two sets of civilian clothes. I'd estimate size medium. One male and one female. Have them brought to the medical section of the Eruithairkan vessel."
"One male, one female, size medium. Got it sir."
* * *
"What will they do with us?" Linda asked.
"I don't know," he sighed. "I figure they're about to release us being that we're conscious." Spaselopedus was as uncomfortable with the situation as Linda was. It was improper for them to be together like this.
"Couldn't those monsters at least give us blankets?"
"Different cultures have different customs," he said. "The Eruithairkans are very secretive. They probably don't think it's necessary."
"Someone's coming," said Linda.
Spaselopedus turned himself just enough to see the Eruithairkan Med-tech come through the door carrying a bundle. He watched Spot-head put the bundle at the foot of Linda's bed and shuffle over to the panel on the wall. Suddenly the restraints were deactivated.
* * *
"I've done as you requested Lieutenant," said the Med-tech shambling out of the ward.
Troonai finished examining the clear pouch given to him. It contained some primitive electronics and a few odds and ends. He stashed the pouch under his arm and said, "Thank you, I'll see them now." Lieutenant Troonai walked into the ward where two humans sat. By the looks of them they were either Koplushian or Normian in origin. Neither had the typical racial traits of the other human planets.
"Can you understand me?" Troonai asked in Kopanset.
The man looked up, but didn't register understanding. Troonai repeated his question to the woman, and then in Galacticom-speech, even in what little Normian he knew. The pair muttered to each other, but this time it was Troonai who didn't understand.
"Askuit," Troonai mumbled in frustration, "The captain of this ship must be right. He said they found the spacecraft near the Karpla system. They must just be stupid Karplans."
Troonai motioned for them to stand and follow him. As they entered the corridor from the medical center the female sniffed audibly.
"Yea, you can almost smell the humidity out here can't you?" Troonai said. "They like it this way," he said, getting no reply from her. "I personally could do without it forever."
He led the Karplans to the airlock where he himself had entered. As they walked through the short connection to the Cognizance, they were able to straighten up. The low ceiling of the Eruithairkan ship, and the Eruithairkan guards were left behind.
"What have you got here?" asked the portal guard, a stocky, black-haired Nideeite.
"Apparently they're a couple of Karplans that got themselves lost in space," said Troonai.
"Karplans? This far out? Who'd have thought it?"
"First occurrence I know of," he said coughing the last of the heavy air from his lungs. "Maybe they're finally coming out."
"Yea, maybe," said the guard as Troonai led the Karplans away. He led them down the corridor to an elevator. Troonai placed his hand on his stunner as the doors closed and the car began its ascension. He sniffed the air and chuckled. "Funny, you don't smell like Karplans," he said. When the doors opened, he led them out and down the corridor into the Medical Facility.
"Hello Lieutenant," said the olive-skinned woman at her desk. "What have you got for me?"
Troonai smiled at the sight of the attractive woman from Vrit. "I've got a pair of stupid Karplans for you to examine."
Med-tech Kroneth frowned slightly. "Lieutenant, I want you to stop referring to them like that. They might understand you."
"I checked already," said Troonai. "They can't understand a word I say."
The male Karplan pushed himself off the table and stepped forward. "Actually, Lieutenant," he folded his arms across his chest, "I've understood every word you've said."
Spaselopedus watched with satisfaction as Troonai's eyes bulged and his jaw dropped. "How... Why didn't you say something before?" he stammered, trying to compose himself.
"I didn't feel like introducing myself in front of aliens," he said. "I am Observer Spaselopedus Barinium of Koplushia. This is my companion Ms. Linda Prescott."
"Forgive me Observer," said Troonai. "Would you care to tell me what you were doing where the Eruithairkans found you?"
"Firstly," said Spaselopedus, "you tell me where we were found."
"The...uh, craft you were in was about a light-day from the Karpla system--a protected world," Troonai said.
That explains a few things, he thought. Spaselopedus tried to remember protocols. It felt like he had been gone a lifetime. "I'll want to give my deposition in the presence of the ship's Observer, Lieutenant. I'm sure you understand."
"Yes, I understand Observer. I'll make my report to the Captain." He turned and left.
"Observer Barinium," said Kroneth, "I need to give you and Ms. Prescott an examination--before your deposition."
"Very well, proceed," he said, walking back to the table.
"Would you please tell me what's going on Spencer?" asked Linda.
"Everything's going to be all right. We're aboard a Koplushian spaceship. Right now this doctor is going to examine us to make sure we're healthy."
"Wait, didn't the squids do that already?"
"Yes, but we're among humans now. They just want to make sure. It's standard procedure."
"Oh," Linda looked down at her clothes, "do they want me to strip again?"
He smiled and shook his head. "I doubt that will be necessary. We're very civilized in the Alliance."
Kroneth donned a pair of dispex and came over to them with a small, hand-held scanner.
Linda sniggered. "Apparently your Alliance hasn't yet conquered eye deformities."
"What?" said Spaselopedus.
"Your doctor just put on a pair of glasses."
Spaselopedus thought for a moment, then it clicked, "Oh that, they aren't corrective lenses, Linda; she's wearing her computer."
"You're kidding. They're just wire rimmed glasses," she said.
"No, it's true," Spaselopedus smiled. "Remember your bulky heads-up display? Well, this is a thousand times better."
Linda gave him a skeptical look and shook her head. Kroneth was aiming the pen-sized scanner at various parts of their bodies and pausing to see the readings in her dispex.
"You both appear healthy to me," she said. "Though, Observer, I see an indication of a recent concussion. Where did you get that?"
"Somebody knocked me on the head when I wasn't looking," he said.
Kroneth nodded and returned to her desk.
"What are they going to do with us?" said Linda.
"I'll check," said Spaselopedus. "Med-tech Kroneth, If you are finished with us, are we to be assigned quarters? I'd like to get out of these generic clothes."
She put on a wry smile and shook her head. "You Observers are all alike. Let me contact the Executive Officer first. He'll see to it you get quarters and proper clothes. Until then why not have a seat in the lounge?" she pointed towards the next room.
"Very good. Thank you, Med-tech."
Spaselopedus led Linda into the small lounge. They sat down at one of the tables. Spaselopedus spied a food dispenser along one wall.
"Care for something to eat or drink?" he asked.
"Yes, please," Linda said without hesitation.
"By the way, I figured out where we were." He returned with a bowl of food cubes and a glass of water. "Earth is a planet we call Karpla. It's under protected status."
"What does that mean?" she said pulling the glass closer to her.
Spaselopedus shrugged and pulled a two-tined fork from the bowl. "It means that no one from the Alliance is supposed to go there." He speared a cube and lifted it to his mouth. Ah, civilization, he thought, taking a bite and savoring the taste.
"Does that mean you're in trouble?" She reached over and picked up a cube with her fingers.
Spaselopedus took another fork from the bowl and presented it to her. She took it and skewered the cube in her fingers.
"Well, I don't know. I didn't go there on my own. I was kidnapped and dumped on Earth."
Linda took a bite from her cube. Immediately her face contorted and she took a big drink from her glass, "Yuk! What is this?"
"It's a food cube," said Spaselopedus. "It's got all the nutrition you need."
"Not if they all taste this bad. Don't you have any real food?"
"These have been the standard fare on Koplushia for generations," he said stabbing one of the same color as hers. "They're all good." He took a hearty bite and chewed vigorously, "Delicious!" he said.
"They taste like soap to me," Linda said.
"Ridiculous. You just need to acclimate your taste buds. Some of the food on Earth wasn't that great in my opinion."
Linda took another small bite from the cube on her skewer. Her face showed disgust but she kept chewing.
Spaselopedus heard the door to the Medical center open and close. Then he heard Kroneth indicate the lounge. A moment later a woman appeared in the doorway. Her yellow uniform and insignia indicated to him that she was the ship's quartermaster.
"Observer Barinium?' she said. Spaselopedus nodded. "I've been instructed to give you and your..."
"Companion," he said.
"Very well Quartermaster, lead on."
The woman led them down the corridor to an elevator.
Linda said, "They're treating you like royalty."
Spaselopedus answered simply, "It's just politics. After all, I am an Observer."
"Why? Do Observers make a lot of money?"
Spaselopedus wobbled his head slightly, "Well, we are allotted a greater amount of credits, but then Observers have more expenditures than most people."
"What do you mean by 'allotted'? Don't you earn your money?"
"No," he said, "credits are allotted to our accounts based on our occupations."
"I can't see any incentive in that. Everyone would just choose the best allotted jobs."
"Don't be ridiculous," said Spaselopedus. "We don't choose our occupations."
"I don't get your meaning," she said.
"We're tested in school," said Spaselopedus. "Whatever occupational inclination is indicated by the testing determines what job you get."
"Sounds a bit autocratic to me."
"It's worked for thousands of years for us."
"Hmm," she said as they continued walking.
They went down a few levels and through another corridor. The Quartermaster waited at the door to a cabin, "This cabin adjoins the one next door Observer."
"Thank you Quartermaster--what is your name please?" he asked.
"Sestra Anika, Observer," she replied at once.
The door to Spaselopedus' cabin opened and they went in. "Very nice," he said looking about. "We'll both need a set of clothing Quartermaster Anika. Thank you."
Anika removed a small device from her belt and scanned the both of them. "I'll send your clothes in a few minutes Observer, I'll have to pull them from ship's stores."
"Thank you Quartermaster. You may go," he dismissed.
Anika turned and left quietly.
"I can't understand a word of it," said Linda taking a seat, "but I take it you're the new Emperor here?"
"Nothing so lowly." He laughed. "I told you Observers are well respected. They're going to send some clothes for us. I'll be glad to get out of this thing." He thumbed the cloth of his shirt.
"I'd be glad to simply know what's going on," said Linda.
Spaselopedus sat down across from her. "I'll arrange for you to learn Kopanset."
"I hate language learning," she moaned. "All that memorizing and practicing."
"I believe you'll find our way a bit easier. You should be chatting up a storm in about two days."
"Two days? You're starting to sound like one of those oldtime infomercials."
"What? No, you'll see," he assured. "It's easier than you think."
The door chimed and Spaselopedus answered it. It was a young steward with their clothes and a clear pouch containing their personal effects.
"Thank you," he said taking the garments. The steward stood staring for a moment. "Thank you," repeated Spaselopedus.
"Oh, Sorry Observer," the steward said then turned and left.
"Idiots!" muttered Spaselopedus, placing the pouch on the table. It's only got Karpla-based technology in it anyway, he thought.
"Why be so hard on him?" said Linda. "He was only a boy by the looks of him."
He handed her a set of clothes. "These look to be yours."
"Thanks," she said opening the adjoining door to her cabin.
Spaselopedus opened the door to his water closet and entered. He stripped off his clothes and put them in the cleaner by the door. A nice civilized shower is what he wanted now. He turned on the spray and walked into it.
When the air blast was through drying him, he reentered his cabin and began dressing. They had rightly given him an Observer's uniform. It reminded him of how his last one was destroyed. He donned his new underclothes, pulled the light blue shirt over his head, and stepped into the gray breeches. This is what cloth should feel like, he thought, not like the rough-weave of Karpla.
The moment he finished fastening them, the intercom began buzzing for his attention. When he activated the vid-plate on the wall, the screen lit with a man's face. From his uniform Spaselopedus knew his rank was lieutenant and his title was Captain's secretary.
"Greetings Secretary," he said.
"Greetings Observer Barinium. Captain Nomair requests that I inform you that she'll be holding a meeting at 14:30. A steward will be sent to bring you and your companion to the conference room."
"Thank you, Secretary, that will be acceptable," replied Spaselopedus.
"Very good," said the secretary. A moment later the screen went blank.
Spaselopedus checked the chrono display over the door. "Linda," he called through her door, "we'll be having a meeting with the Captain in a while."
"You mean you will," she complained coming through the door, "I'll just be sitting there like a chattel."
"I'm going to take care of it," he said. "Just be patient." She had been given a fancy civilian outfit consisting of gray gaucho pants and a white blouse. A long, blue blazer completed the outfit. She must have noted his gaze because she spun around with her arms out and said, "Well, what do you think?"
Spaselopedus thought she looked very attractive in the clothes, but he said simply, "Very nice." Then he pulled on his long, lightweight coat, stroked his silver Observer eye insignia and asked, "What about me?"
Linda sniggered, "You'd look more convincing with your socks and boots on. Is that what all the horse set are wearing now?"
He looked down at his bare feet. "Oops," he said seating himself and grabbing his socks. "What do you mean by horse set anyway?"
She broke into her squeaky laugh, "I mean, you look like you're going on a fox hunt." Her laughter continued.
Fox hunt? he thought.
"The steward brought our personal effects," he said buckling his boot. "I put them on the table."
Linda went over and dumped the pouch onto the round surface. Spaselopedus watched as she picked out her wristtop computer, book reader and her gold ring. She hesitated and slowly placed it on her fourth finger of her left hand. Just as he finished buckling his other boot, the door chimed. It was the steward come to bring them to the meeting.
The Captain of the Koplushian ship Cognizance was waiting for them when they entered the conference room. She was a tall woman, middle aged, wearing the insignia and silver tunic of her station. Spaselopedus and Linda sat together on one side of the table, the ship's Observer across from them, the Captain at the head. The Observer looked to be young, but then military service was the choice of many young professionals.
"Greetings," said Captain Nomair. "Observer Barinium, this is Observer Loshuin, your companion is..."
"Her name is Linda Prescott, Captain," Spaselopedus finished.
"Very good. Before we proceed with your deposition, Observer, I have a few questions which I am required to ask."
"Firstly, you were found drifting in a primitive spacecraft within the protected limit of the Karpla system. Tell me," she glanced at Loshuin, "Why were you there?"
"Captain Nomair," began Spaselopedus, "I was within the protective zone of the Karpla system because I had recently left planet Karpla."
"Did you intentionally bring the Karplan woman with you, Observer?"
Spaselopedus looked over at Linda. She didn't look like the stereotypical Karplan one saw in entertainment vids, with dirtied face and twenty children dragging her into the mud.
"She was involved in my leaving, but it was not intended," he said.
"Observer Barinium, did you know Karpla was a protected world of the Alliance?" asked the Captain.
"Captain, I knew not what world I was on until I had been rescued."
"So your answer is in the negative, Observer?"
"Yes, Captain," he said.
"Very good, Observer Barinium, you may now give your statement."
Spaselopedus recounted how he had found himself on an unknown world and how he had managed to end up where he had been found. He and Linda were then dismissed and asked to remain in their quarters.
"I don't like the way she dismissed us in there," said Linda when they were back in Spaselopedus' cabin.
"I thought you couldn't speak the lingo," he said.
"I don't, but I know body language. I felt like we were on trial in there."
"Don't worry, it's just standard procedure to debrief an Observer upon returning."
"Well, what's next?" Linda asked.
"The Captain informed me that the day after tomorrow we'll arrive at Koplushia. They have a few stops to make on the way. Then I get back to my life."
"What about me? Will I be taken back to Earth?" her brows furrowed.
"Captain Nomair said it wasn't up to her," he said sitting in the chair at the table. "She suggested I take it up with the Institute of Planets when we get to Koplushia."
"The Institute of Planets? What's that?" she said.
"They have jurisdiction over Observers and missions to protected worlds. I'm usually supervised by them."
"Oh," she said taking the other seat at the table. There was a bowl of food cubes on it and she quietly pushed it away. "Do you think they're going to help?"
"To tell you the truth," he said taking a fork and stabbing at the cubes in the bowl, "I really don't know. I've never gotten in a situation like this."
Linda looked thoughtful, "Why is Earth protected anyway?"
Spaselopedus stood up and began munching his foodcube. "Um, first off, there's something you should know. Earth isn't unique. There are six known planets inhabited by aboriginal human beings."
"Six!" Linda exclaimed, incredulous.
"Yes, it's explained in our holy book, the Eky Kraidtin. According to our belief, there was once a single planet of proto-humans which was threatened by natural disasters, so a race of energy-beings, the Sarvus Legnay rescued them and placed them on six habitable worlds. Earth, or Karpla as we call it, is one of the six."
Linda smiled and slowly shook her head, "But there is a fossil record on Earth indicating--"
"Linda," he said, "listen. I don't know anything about paleontology, geology, theology, or any of the other sciences, but I do know that all of the other five 'human planets' have a fossil record indicating an evolutionary process. I'm just informing you as to our beliefs."
"Well, why haven't we been contacted before if Earth is one of these six planets?" she asked.
Spaselopedus shrugged, "History, politics--you see Earth wasn't discovered until after the Alliance was formed and it was incredibly primitive. I learned in school how Earthers had barely figured out agriculture at the time so it was decided to preserve it as..."
"As an anthropological zoo? I won't believe it," her voice rose.
"No, it's not like that," he said trying to calm her. "You've got to understand, the rest of us had achieved advanced civilizations already. There were debates about whether to uplift the Earthers or allow them to advance at their own pace. Self determination won out."
"So, will it ever be included in your," she gestured, searching for a word, "-Alliance I believe you call it?"
"Yes, after it meets the three requirements," he said.
"And what might they be?" asked Linda.
"A world government, an harmonious society, and extra-planetary travel."
"Pity," she sighed, "we had two of them twenty years ago and you and I can attest to the third."
"All three need to exist simultaneously, not in series," he explained.
"I know, I understood that, but..."
"Yes?" said Spaselopedus.
"I guess I feel left out of the universe, now that I know there is one."
"Well, you're in it now."
"What about Mom?" she asked.
"Well, she's still on Earth, she'll be fine," he assured.
"But she probably thinks I'm dead now. Lunacorp doesn't know what happened to us!"
"I'm sorry Linda," Spaselopedus said trying to catch her eyes, "but it was my last chance. You would have seen to it that I never got anywhere near the Pod after that night. I'm really sorry I dragged you into this."
Linda's lower lip began quivering and tears welled up in her eyes. She stood quickly and went through the door to her cabin. Spaselopedus felt helpless and unsure as to how to act.
Finally he decided to follow her. The adjoining door to her room was locked. How did she know how to do that? He knocked on it. "Linda, please open the door. We need to talk about this." There was silence for a moment, then he heard her walking over.
The door opened and Linda stood there, eyes reddened, a distraught look on her face. Her petite body gave her the appearance of a child.
"Linda, I'm sorry, I really am."
"You've said that a lot," she said wiping her cheek, "I don't think you mean it."
Spaselopedus despaired again. In his limited experience with women, he never had a clue how to deal with tears, "I'm telling you the truth. You thought I was a liar on Earth didn't you? Well, here we are in the very world I was telling you about. Please depend on me now when I say I will do everything in my power to get you home."
She turned away suddenly and he heard her whisper, "The last time I depended on anyone he died right in front of me." She curled up trying to walk to her bed and started crying, plain and simple. "Andrew... Andrew... Why did it have to happen?"
His stomach tied itself into an unbearable knot. He had no idea what had happened to this Andrew, but it must have been truly terrible. Spaselopedus began to feel he was walking a tightrope across a dark precipice. If he misstepped, he was bound to fall in.
He made a decision and walked over to help Linda up. She finished climbing up onto her bed and continued softly weeping. "Linda," he said, "I don't know how to help you, but I'm here if you need anything."
She inhaled deeply, "Just leave me alone. I want to be alone."
Slowly, Spaselopedus backed towards the door to his adjoining cabin. "I'll be right in here if you change your mind." He closed the door part way and sat at the table. After a few minutes he turned on the vid to see the news, keeping the volume low.
Rain spattered on the cockpit bubble of the aero. Kenneth Townsend examined the readings in his virtual-display helmet. According to the aero's locater he was approaching Barbara Henning's homestead. Townsend had only met Linda's mother once before, at her son-in-law's funeral. He knew Mrs. Henning had lost her son in the Oil War; the news of losing another child would be almost unbearable.
"Call Michaels," he said to the aero's computer. A few moments later Michaels' voice answered.
"Yes Kenneth. I'm here."
"I'm approaching Mrs. Henning's house Sir. Thought you'd like to know."
"Thanks Kenneth. I'll be standing by."
Townsend landed the aero gently in the open yard in the back of the house. As he got out into the rain, he saw Mrs. Henning open the door to the house and come out. She was wearing a light coat and a brimmed hat.
"Mrs. Henning?" he said. "I'm Kenneth Townsend, Director of Lunacorp-Sacramento." He offered her his hand. He carried a briefcase in the other.
"Hello Mr. Townsend," she said smiling and holding her coat shut with one hand. "What brings you out here?"
The expression on his face must have been more telling than he thought. Mrs. Henning stopped short and slowly shook her head.
Townsend met her and said, "I'm sorry. I need to talk to you inside."
She stood looking at him resolute for a moment. Then nodded and led him into the kitchen. He became immediately aware of the smell of the wood cookstove along one wall. Strange, he thought, how in this age of space exploration and modern convenience that anyone would still cook with wood. Surely a microwave or electric range would be easier.
"Well?" Mrs. Henning said as she removed her hat. She regarded him with a dour expression.
"Mrs. Henning--I mean--"
"What's happened?" she said.
"We tried to contact you earlier but--"
"No," she said, putting a hand to her cheek, "Not Linda!"
Townsend met her eyes and managed a small nod. Mrs. Henning's face twisted in despair and she closed her eyes. After a moment she slowly walked over and took a seat at the table. She slowly whispered, "Tell me how it happened."
Townsend took a seat next to her and inhaled deeply. He didn't want to tell her anymore than he thought she wanted to hear it.
* * *
Barbara steeled herself for what she was about to hear. Linda must be dead or he wouldn't have gone to such trouble. When her son Mark was killed, a friend of his from the service accompanied the body home and broke the story to her. Now Townsend placed his briefcase on the table.
"I brought a video-link," he said opening the case. "Dr. Michaels wanted to come in person, but was unable. He wants to tell you himself."
He pressed a switch and the display lit with Michaels' face.
"Yes?" she said.
"I want to apologize for not coming to you personally, but I felt I owed you this much."
Michaels rubbed his forehead with his hand. "Linda was aboard an experimental space vehicle when it was accidentally launched into space."
Barbara could scarcely believe what he said. It was not what she had expected. "Simple as that?" she said. "Launched into space?"
Michaels rubbed his face again and returned his hand to his desk. "There's a little more to it," he said. "The vehicle was stolen by another employee of Lunacorp."
"Stolen? By whom?"
Michaels hesitated. "It was Spencer Oedipus, your house-guest." he spoke the last with disdain.
Barbara disbelieved that Spencer would do such a thing. There had to be a better explanation. He was so sincere in his dealings with her. True, he babbled on about other planets but--
"You say Spencer stole a ship and Linda was with him?"
"Couldn't you just go get them?" she asked.
On the screen Michaels looked at his table and frowned, "The ship was the only one of its kind. They were too far away for recovery."
Barbara resigned herself to believe what he said--for now. In her estimation Spencer wasn't the type to just steal something like that. He acted in an honorable manner during his time in her house. There must be extenuating circumstances that Michaels wasn't telling.
"Thank you for going to all this trouble Dr. Michaels."
"It was nothing," he said. "I only wish I could have made it down there. If you need anything feel free to contact me."
"Thank you," she said reaching for the off button.
Barbara noticed the surprised expression on Townsend's face, "What's wrong? Did you think I wouldn't know how to turn it off?"
"No Ma'am. It's just--"
Barbara pushed the vid-link away. "Just because I choose to live simply doesn't mean I'm stupid. You've done you're job. Now get out of here!"
Townsend closed the case and quietly exited out the back door.
The rain had stopped. Barbara walked to the top of the hill overlooking her homestead. It was here that her husband, Eddie first showed her their newly-purchased acreage. It was here they had often retreated to talk and view their 'Empire'. It was here that she now asked herself if it had all been worth it.
Her loving husband had been taken from her side by disease, her son by war, and now her daughter by mishap. What had happened to her expectations of life? The simple desire to raise a family and live a sane and simple life...
Barbara walked down to the house. Everything inside reminded her of her family. She climbed the stairs and entered Linda's room. She kept it arranged for her for when she would come home to stay.
Barbara went over to the dresser and opened Linda's jewelry box. Attached inside was a small snapshot of Andrew, Linda's dead husband. She picked out an angel-shaped pendant and clutched it to her chest. Tears welled up in her eyes.
"Linda," she whispered. "Oh God, Linda, not you too!"
She wept until dusk brought darkness to the room. After washing the dried tears from her face, she went to her room and opened the top drawer to her dresser. Barbara pulled the cellular telephone and it's charger from the drawer and plugged it into the outlet next to her vanity.
* * *
Agent Wilm Kiprim of the Koplushian Intervention Task-force paced the floor of his office in the Headquarters building on Koplushia. He had just been reprimanded by his supervisor; the words still stung in his ears. A botched assignment is an extremely dangerous thing in this line of work, he thought, I should have followed it closer.
The icon in his dispex-implant indicated an incoming call. Kiprim opened the secure channel with an eye-flick. The image of the caller appeared as a picture within picture in his eye.
"Greetings Mr. Theelin," said Kiprim.
"Yea, it's me Boss. What's up?"
Kiprim strove to keep his voice steady to belie the seriousness of his question, "Mr. Theelin, tell me about that Observer you 'hid' for us."
"You mean the last job? Oh, that was easy, Boss. We hid him good for you, like you wanted."
"Tell me then Mr. Theelin, why the Observer has reappeared in the Alliance."
Shock showed on Theelin's face and the picture canted as if Theelin was adjusting his dispex, "Wh-what? How could he get off--"
"The fact is he did." Kiprim's voice increased in volume. "What's worse, he still has his memory. Didn't you mindwipe him?"
"Boss I didn't think we'd bother," Theelin laughed. "He was so beat up when we got through--"
"Seg and Saskuit!" yelled Kiprim. He slammed a fist on the desk, "You idiot! You dolt! Our procedure is to mindwipe anyone, anyone we hide on Karpla. He's a Barinium; if he wasn't an Observer, his name alone would give him credence!"
"Boss," said Theelin, "He was good as dead when we dumped him off. There was no chance--"
"I tell you he's on an Alliance ship--with his memory intact.
Theelin gave a meek, "Yes Boss."
Kiprim saw two shadowy figures come up behind Theelin and grab his shoulders. They were loyal operatives of Kiprim's with special instructions. As he was pulled back by the figures, Theelin yelled, "What--you can't do this to me. It won't happen again, boss"
You're right, thought Kiprim. The transmission from Theelin's dispex jumped and became jumbled. He turned the channel off with a single eye-flick. It was too late for apologies.
Kiprim sat down behind his desk. The Supervisor had been extremely disappointed in his failure to eliminate Observer Barinium. It would take a lot to regain the confidence he once enjoyed from him. Starting with this next assignment.
Now that Barinium was again in the Alliance, two choices remained. Turn him to the side of the KIT or kill him. Kiprim hated the permanence of a killing. After all they were both Koplushians. Since Barinium had shown enough initiative to escape from Karpla, perhaps he would make a good addition to the Koplushian Intervention Task-force.
"Is this really a whole computer?" asked Linda holding up the dispex. They were in the recreation hall of the Cognizance, Spaselopedus had brought her here in an attempt at cheering her up.
He had picked out a historic novel for her about the turmoil during the founding of the first joint Vrit/Koplushian colony. Being that they still had a day to pass before reaching Koplushia, he thought having her experience a virtual adventure would improve her disposition.
He smiled. "Yes, it's completely self contained." She seemed to have a hard time believing the facts of nano-electronics. "Just put them on and wait a moment." Linda did so.
"How do they work?"
Spaselopedus thought the dispex complimented her round face.
He gestured vaguely in the air. "It's a computer."
"No I mean where's the power source?" said Linda.
"Oh, the power comes from the temperature difference between the earpieces and the display disks. I think it's called thermo-electrics."
"But if your technology is so miniaturized, why not just use bio-implants and avoid the hardware?"
Spaselopedus frowned, the thought of violating one's body with bionics was repulsive to most Koplushians. "That's a disgusting thought," he said. "They do that sort of thing on the corporate worlds in the Nidee sector."
"Someday I'd like to see all these places you keep mentioning."
He cringed inside at the thought of touring the Alliance with her. "Can you see a circle blinking in the upper right quadrant?" he said.
"No... wait... there. I see it!" she exclaimed.
"Good," he said, "now put these on." He handed her a pair of thin gloves. "These let you manipulate things in the game, and these," he placed a small circular device on each of her shoes, "tell it what your feet are doing."
"What did you think of the virtual games we had on Luna?" she asked.
Spaselopedus remembered the time he had tried them. "Well, they're a bit violent, don't you think? All I had to do was kill someone to win."
"That's what you're supposed to do," she said.
Spaselopedus began to wonder about the dominant Earth cultures he had experienced. The popular music sounded raucous, the youths were inclined to violence, and murders by the dozens occurred everyday. It was no wonder the Alliance kept Karpla under protected status.
And yet, there were also people there he had met, Barbara, Linda, Crazy Freddie, Cindi and Isii who were as civil as any Koplushian citizen. One day, perhaps, the Institute of Planets would send someone down to sort out the whole mess and make some sense of it all.
"Spencer, I'm ready to play now," said Linda.
Spaselopedus shook his head to clear it. "Sorry about that," he said, "I was lost in thought there for a minute."
"I can see a little circle blinking in the corner. What do I do with it?"
"All you do is look at it for a moment, and flick your eye to bring it to the center of your line of vision."
Linda made several gyrations with her eyes. Spaselopedus kept a firm grip on himself to avoid laughing. Finally he couldn't help himself.
"Linda, you look like you're going crazy. Your eyes are spinning around and around--"
"It's not funny!" she snapped at him. "I keep getting a hold on the damn circle but it won't move for me. How do you do it?"
"I can't explain it any better Linda. It's something we all learn in basics school."
"I've used an eye-mouse at work, but this is... stupid," she pulled the dispex from her face and plunked them on the table.
Spaselopedus felt the tension rising. I can't let her fail at this, she'll stay in a foul mood for the rest of the trip. "Linda, try it again. Maybe it'll work this time."
"I doubt it." She leaned back in her chair. "It was probably a stupid game anyway."
Spaselopedus was at a loss as to how to convince her to keep trying. He knew it took time to learn any skill, even one as simple as flicking.
"Maybe I could find an elementary learning program in the ship's library that would help you," he said.
Linda gave him a scornful look. "I'm just some lowly Earthwoman who can't figure out your technology to you, aren't I?"
"No, not at all," he said, taken aback at her reaction. Perhaps she took the suggestion wrong, "I didn't mean--"
Linda stood up and began walking for the door. Spaselopedus jumped to his feet and followed her out.
"Linda, wait. I wasn't trying to make fun of you. Truly."
She kept walking down the central corridor of the ship, her quick steps easily matching Spaselopedus' long strides.
"I want to go back to my cabin," she said, avoiding his eyes.
"Alright," he said, "but what then? We've got a whole day till we reach Koplushia."
Linda stopped quickly and faced him, "I don't care where we're going next unless it's my home. What good is it to be here if I can't go back and tell them what I've seen?" She swept the corridor with a pointed finger.
"I told you I was going to try--" H spread his arms in front of him.
"Yea yea, well so far the only thing your trying has gotten me is a fresh outfit and food that tastes like soap!" She took off again at a steady clip. Spaselopedus ran to catch up.
"You don't understand--"
"Maybe this poor Earthwoman is just incapable of comprehension!" she yelled. "Just leave me alone!"
In frustration, Spaselopedus stopped and watched her continue down the corridor. She reached the elevator and waited. He knew she was looking for the button. Fine. He would leave her alone.
The car arrived and the doors parted for her to enter. He began walking for the elevator himself. She's got to realize sooner or later that this is a different world. She can't just run off all the time. He then realized the adventure he picked out for her was in Kopanset and she wouldn't have understood it anyway.
Spaselopedus was unsuccessful in tracing Linda's steps through the ship, but he didn't want to simply report her to security. He returned to his cabin, Linda wasn't in hers. A panic started to creep over Spaselopedus. Was she lost or did she encounter some sort of trouble in the ship? A few minutes later he heard the door to her cabin open and close.
Spaselopedus poked his head out in time to see a black-tuniced security guard come to his door. It was Lieutenant Troonai. "Excuse me Observer," he said, "the Captain requests that you keep a better eye on your companion. We found her wandering around Engineering."
He pressed his lips together. It was an insult to suggest an Observer had not seen something. Spaselopedus didn't like the attitude of this man but he knew his footing on this issue was precarious. "Thank you for retrieving her. I'll try to see that she keeps out of trouble."
Troonai sneered, turned smartly without further word and headed down the corridor.
Spaselopedus closed the door and went to Linda's door and knocked. There was no reply, but as he listened carefully he heard the distinct sound of her sobs. This is going to be a long trip, he thought.
* * *
The Cognizance docked with the entry station and they disembarked. Linda followed Spencer through the interlock behind a few of the crew members. As she entered the station proper, she saw many oddly dressed humans.
Linda looked with interest at the people. The constant babble of an unfamiliar language put her nerves on edge. Suddenly her eyes stopped on a pair of aliens.
They were about the size of a St. Bernard dog with centaur-like torsos. Their heads were egg-shaped and sported a single multi-faceted eye, two trumpet-like ears and two thick antennas.
Linda stopped and grabbed Spencer's shoulder. "What are they?" she whispered.
He glanced in the direction she was pointing. "Oh, those are bree'hahs, probably here for a visit."
She was still looking at them. How out of place they looked among all the humans. "How many different aliens are in this Alliance of yours?"
"Oh, about two dozen I guess," he said. "Come on, you'll need a visitor's visa before we go planetside."
"Why? I'm not planning on staying."
"It doesn't matter. No one but Koplushians are allowed on Koplushia without a visa." he said.
Linda stared at him. "You mean no one comes to live here but Koplushians?"
"What I mean is no one can become a naturalized citizen of Koplushia, only a visitor."
Linda watched as Spencer turned slowly and started off for the visa desk. Somehow she didn't like the sound of this planet.
* * *
Spaselopedus was glad to be so close to home after his misadventure. He anticipated sleeping in his own bed and getting on with the routine matters of his life. He would have to get Linda home naturally, but that should be a simple matter. Perhaps he would give her a tour of his world so she could see what civilization really was.
As they approached the visa desk, a civilian-dressed woman intercepted them.
"Excuse me," she said stopping their progress. "Are you Observer Spaselopedus Barinium?"
"Yes, I am," he answered.
"Is your companion the Karplan woman, Observer?"
"Yes, she is. What do you want?" he demanded.
"I am Captain Glorin Traid of Security. You are under arrest for violation of the protected planet status of Karpla."
Disbelief overcame him. Before Spaselopedus could react in the slightest, he and Linda were flanked by four black-tuniced officers of the law.
"Wait," he said, "this has got to be a mistake!"
"No mistake, Observer, my orders came from the Institute of Planets."
"What's happening Spencer?" asked Linda. She looked concerned.
Spaselopedus turned his head to her. "I'm being arrested."
Two of the officers pulled his hands behind his back and attached manacles. The other two tried to do the same with Linda.
"Hey, let go!" she yelled, twisting out of their grip.
One of the officers that had manacled Spaselopedus went to help with Linda, but she ducked and rolled away from them.
"Linda, don't!" shouted Spaselopedus. Running from Peacekeepers just wasn't something one did.
The officers pulled out short, black rods and moved towards Linda. Spaselopedus recognized the devices as stunners. The hair on his neck stood up.
"I've had it with this nonsense," Linda said and took off in a run.
Spaselopedus stood by helplessly and watched the futility of her actions. One of the guards fired his stunner. Linda stopped in mid-step and fell to the floor.
[Chapters 6-10][Index][Chapters 16-20]
I hope you have enjoyed reading this section of my novel, The Observer. I would enjoy hearing any comments on this sample of my work.