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THE OBSERVER

By

David E. Rutan

Copyright © 1999 David E. Rutan

Chapter: [6][7][8][9][10]

 

 

A novel of approximately 72,500 words

 

 

 

Programmer

 

 

Linda descended over the roof of Lunacorp headquarters in Sacramento. The sky was dark, but the virtual-display in her helmet allowed her to see exactly what she was doing.

As she got out of the aero, she noticed a helicopter and another parked aero. Linda remembered how excited she had been at one of the larger meetings when virtually the entire area had been packed with aeros. They had been recently introduced then and every executive with swing had managed to get one.

Most of them had been given up. While most of the execs could afford an aero, very few of them were qualified to operate one under the FAA regulations. Linda was content to borrow hers between stints on Luna. It was the best company vehicle she could imagine.

Just before she reached the roof-lobby entrance, the door opened and Kurt Schmidt leaned out. He was a young man, at least younger than her, with fair hair and blue eyes. The only unstylish thing about him was that damned handlebar mustache.

"Waiting for me?" said Linda ducking past him into the dim light of the lobby.

"You're just in time," said Kurt. "Michaels is on the video for the meeting."

"Oh my God, is it that serious?" She began walking quickly towards the elevator.

"You don't know?"

She shook her head. "I've no idea what it's about. Kenneth wouldn't say on the phone." Linda pressed the button next to the double doors.

"I'll leave it to my boss then. No sense stepping on his toes."

"Not even a hint?" she said as they entered the elevator.

"No way," said Kurt, pressing the button for the twentieth floor. "I'm up for a promotion."

"Is the problem here or on Luna?"

Kurt zippered his mouth with his hand and put on a coy smile.

"Okay, I'll stop trying," she said as the doors opened.

They stepped out and walked down the hall to the conference room. Kurt opened the door and stood aside for Linda to enter.

She walked in alone and the door closed behind her. The room was large enough to hold a dozen people. Landscape oil paintings filled two of the walls. The third contained windows which were covered from floor to ceiling drapery. The fourth was a video screen.

"Hi Kenneth," she said. "Good to see you again."

"Hello Linda, please sit down."

Linda saw the rugged face of Dr. Scott Michaels, Director of the Lunacorp facility on Luna, on the wallscreen. "Hi Linda, sorry to interrupt your vacation, but we have a problem."

She sat in one of the leather upholstered chairs and put her hands on the long, walnut table. "What's up?"

Michaels' trimmed mustache frowned a moment. "Our programmer has quit."

"Damn!" Linda said, her hand slapping the table top. "Not another one."

"Unfortunately yes," said Kenneth Townsend, head of Lunacorp headquarters in Sacramento, his long face as serious as ever, "and we need to replace him at once."

"I don't need to tell you how much this could set the Pod project back," said Michaels. "We were ready to bring him up to Luna."

Linda rubbed her forehead. "Why did he leave?"

Townsend pushed a piece of paper over to her, "Here's his letter of resignation. He says the task before him is impossible."

She scanned the letter, frowned, and pushed it back to Townsend. "A defeatist if I ever saw one. I want to talk to him. Where is he?"

"He's still here at headquarters. We told him we could still use his talents if he wanted a job."

"Good idea, where is he?" Linda said.

Townsend pulled the sleeve of his shirt off of his wristtop computer. "Ah, let's see... Yes, he is assigned room 564, no roommate currently. Should I notify him that you're coming?"

"Don't bother," she said standing up. "Surprise is an advantage I don't want to give up."

 

 

Linda stepped out of the elevator and strode down the hall towards her destination. Sounds of occupancy filtered through the walls of the dorm rooms. She knocked on the door marked 564.

There was no reply. "Charlie, are you in there?" she knocked again.

The door opened a few centimeters, "Ms. Prescott. What are you doing here?" Charlie Lin was dressed in sweat pants and a black kimono. He opened the door wider.

"I came to discuss your resignation."

"There's nothing to discuss, Ms. Prescott. I quit the project."

Linda felt uncomfortable attempting negotiations in the hallway. "Charlie, do you mind if we continue this inside?"

He shrugged. "Why not. I just put tea water on. Would you like a cup, or a beer?"

"I'd like the beer," she said, "but I'll take the tea, thank you."

His dorm, like all company dorms, came furnished. Charlie had personalized his with small touches, a wall hanging here, an oriental vase there. Linda took a seat in the overstuffed chair near the couch.

She was careful not to lean back in it. She'd been putting in a lot of flight time lately and her eyes were feeling the weight. The tea would be a welcome refresher.

Charlie appeared carrying two mugs. "This isn't the ancestral tea, but I like it." He placed a mug on the end table next to Linda. "Now, where were we? I remember. I was saying I quit."

Linda sipped at her mug. "I wish you'd reconsider. You're the best programmer we've ever found."

He looked at the floor and shook his head. "If that's so, then it's truly an impossible task you've set before me."

"You can't just abandon us," said Linda between sips of her tea. "Lunacorp needs you Charlie. Maybe I could talk to Dr. Michaels. If it's a raise you want--"

"I'd be stupid to refuse a raise," he said, "but that's not the issue--"

"Perhaps I could arrange for larger quarters--"

"I told you before. It's not the money or the size of my room. The job is just plain impossible. The parameters of the systems are too complex."

"What would it take to keep you on until completion of the project?"

"Nothing, I'm gone already."

Linda could tell this was going nowhere. He had no demands. He just wanted to quit.

"Alright," she said putting down the empty mug and standing. "I see this is futile. I'll leave you to your easy goals." Linda turned towards the door and walked to it. Before opening it she turned and said, "Thanks for the tea Mr. Lin, and nothing else." She exited into the hall and headed for the elevator.

 

 

"Damn," said Linda looking at the clock over the door. It was past six in the morning. She had fallen asleep at the terminal in her office. Her limbs objected as she began stretching them out, and her back felt stiff from sleeping in the chair. She turned to the computer and activated the screen.

The display showed several employment applications on file. All of which were completely in order. Any of the applicants might well fill the void left by Charlie Lin.

Linda yawned uncontrollably. She got up from her desk and went to the office kitchenette. There she took down a mug and filled it with water and a few spoonfuls of Instycaff. Vigorous stirring activated the mixture and the chemical reaction brought its temperature to near boiling.

By the time Linda had carried herself and the mug back down the hall to her office, the Instycaff had cooled down to drinking temperature. She sipped at the mug as she reviewed the applications again. The applicants would need to be contacted first thing. Linda transferred the applications to her secretary's terminal with instructions. They would be acted on when she got in at nine.

Linda went to her room in the campus dormitory to freshen up. After a quick, cool shower, she toweled off and put on a clean outfit. The face that stared back at her in the mirror over the vanity was drawn, with dark bags under the eyes.

Linda opened the drawer in the vanity, pushed aside a half-empty perfume bottle and a hairbrush. Then she picked up her seldom-used makeup case and applied some under her eyes. The bags became less evident.

She turned and gave her single bed a longing look. There was no time for sleep. Charlie Lin's replacement must be found immediately or Michaels would have her hide. She headed out the door and returned to her office.

 

 

It was well after noon when the last applicant replied. Linda was at a loss at what to do. Each applicant had turned down the job. Three were currently employed elsewhere and didn't want to leave, and the other couldn't even be found. Her intercom buzzed, interrupting her train of thought.

"Yes Crystal?" she said.

The filtered voice of her secretary came through the intercom, "Dr. Michaels is on the video for you."

"Thank you," she said. Linda had been dreading this event all morning, but she knew it was coming. She turned to the vid-com and pressed the button. Michaels' face filled the screen.

"Hello Linda," he said, "had any luck?"

"None at all. Charlie is a 'no go' and the other qualified applicants don't need a job anymore."

"Not good. This could set us back quite a bit."

"I know," she said. "I tried luring them away, but--"

Michaels' face drew into a frown, "If we don't show some significant progress soon the Company might decide to shelve the entire Pod project."

"I'm fully aware of that Scott, but what can I do? Programming geniuses don't just drop out of the sky." Her thoughts fell for a moment on her mother's annoying guest.

"If we don't secure a programmer in the next day or two the project will be in jeopardy. We're ready to begin the next phase."

"Which means you'll be needing me back on Luna as well," she said rubbing her eyes.

"Yes, along with the programmer. Without him we might as well go back to computer simulations."

Linda fell silent for a moment. She didn't want to tell Michaels how hopeless the situation felt to her. She answered him with a bland, "I'll do my best."

"Keep in touch," he said, and the screen went blank.

Linda put her head in her hands and thought. Where could she find someone with the ability to finish the work that caused three programmers to quit? It was almost comical that the systematic parameters of faster-than-light space travel would be so complex that the people who devised the algorithms were unable to program the computers to control the process.

A knock on the door brought her back from her thoughts. "Come in," she said.

"Have you seen this Linda?" said Kenneth Townsend coming through the door. He had a paper in his hand.

"What is it?" she reached her hand out to receive the paper.

"It is a last minute application from a programmer. It just passed through the background check this morning."

Linda glanced at the stats on the printout. "His qualifications look very good," she said. Then she read the name at the top of the form, it was 'Spencer Oedipus'.

Townsend smiled, "Shall I contact him and bring him in?"

"No," said Linda. "I know this guy. He's a nut."

"I don't see where that matters at this point. If he can do the work."

The last thing Linda Prescott wanted was to give that weirdo a job. She'd had quite enough of his rantings already.

"I guarantee this application is a lie. I caught him about to commit--"

"Linda," said Townsend, "don't you think we should at least test this individual? It may be our best chance to save the project."

"He's a wacko and we'd get nothing but trouble from him. I say we drop it now."

Townsend set his jaw. "You do what you like. I'm sending this up to Dr. Michaels." He turned to leave but Linda stopped him.

"Wait," she paused, then exhaled. "Okay, I'll go get him. He's at my mom's place anyway. Do me a favor and tell Scott what we're up to in the mean time."

"Very good, Linda."

 

 

"Look at these test results," said Kenneth Townsend waving the printout at Linda. "These are the highest scores I've yet seen."

"I'll admit," said Linda, "he's very good." They were in Townsend's office. He was standing up pointing to Spencer's test results displayed on the terminal display before the seated Linda Prescott.

"Yes, see how elegantly he solved this test problem."

The more Linda saw of Spencer's programming technique the less she liked it. He definitely possessed what they needed, but it burned her that he could be so good at something she herself professed. True she couldn't solve the project's problem but why did it have to be him?

"He finished before time ran out didn't he?" said Linda Prescott.

"Yes," said Townsend, "and there's a good reason."

"I can guess," said Linda. "He broke into the system and got the answers to the general knowledge section."

"Mmm hmm, that's correct."

"Once a hacker, always a hacker," said Linda.

"He's a damn good one too. If we hadn't been monitoring him he would have covered it up completely."

"I suppose there's nothing against him then?"

"Well," said Townsend, "while the initial background check came back okay, there are a few odd points about him."

Linda folded her arms in expectation, "For example?"

"He's got no credit history, medical history, driver's license, or employment history

"What does he have then?"

Townsend sat behind his desk and folded his hands, "The only thing he's got is your mother's address and a Federal ID number."

That would explain what he was doing with Crazy Freddie in Stormcreek, she thought. While I was running around, he and Freddie were inserting an ID into the system. Then Spencer contacted the Lunacorp site and filled out an application.

"I wish I knew what he was up to."

"It does appear suspicious," said Townsend. "Still, what alternative have we? Dr. Michaels needs a programmer with his skills."

"You're right," said Linda, "We haven't the luxury of a choice. At least we know who we're dealing with."


 

 

 

Space

 

 

Spaselopedus sat in the seat of the space plane traveling from Earth to the space station. It was a quaint mode of travel, being nearly weightless. Koplushian technology mastered artificial gravity long ago.

Linda was snoring quietly in her couch next to him. She had taken him through a quick orientation at Sacramento where he was issued a company uniform, a book reader and a wristtop computer. The electronics here were cumbersome by his standards, but they were cognates to his own.

Spaselopedus took a break from reading the company manual and carefully stretched his muscles. The passenger compartment was nearly filled to capacity. Many of the people were sleeping, their heads resting on petite cushions issued by an attendant.

As he casually looked up and down the aisle, he caught the eye of the passenger across from him.

"Is this your first flight?" she said. The woman, dressed in a green coverall, was younger than himself, perhaps twenty five. She had long red hair which she wore in a straight braid.

"Um, yes," he said, not wanting to start trouble. "Why do you ask?"

She smiled at him. "It's just you keep looking around, like I did on my first trip up."

Her deep blue eyes drew his attention. "I try not to take my surroundings for granted," he said with a smile.

"My name's Cindi, Cindi Bechter," she said offering her hand. "I'm a hydroponics tech."

"I'm Spencer Oedipus." He shook her hand. "I'm a programmer under Ms. Prescott."

Cindi cocked her head as if to see better that Linda was asleep. "I was about to go to the lounge for a change in scenery. Would you like to come along?"

Spaselopedus saw nothing wrong with a diversion. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "Sure."

Cindi stood with one graceful motion and took hold of the grip on the back of the seat. Spaselopedus moved to stand, but was held down by the safety belt. He released it and slowly stood up, stowing his book in one of the many pockets of his blue coverall.

Walking down the aisle was no problem. They had been issued 'Space booties' to fasten onto their shoes before the flight. The booties stuck to the carpeting of the cabin and allowed for traction.

Cindi reached the spiral staircase and effortlessly ascended. Spaselopedus followed clumsily trying to step up when all he needed do was guide himself with the railing.

"I thought you got lost," she said when he reached the top. "Guess this is your first flight. Huh?"

"What reason would I have to lie?" said Spaselopedus.

She shrugged, "Let's take in the view." She pointed at the large window with a dozen seats before it. They sat down in the rear of the arrangement.

The lighting was dim in the observation lounge. Spaselopedus could hear the muffled sounds through the partition from the movie playing in the other end of the compartment. He gazed out the viewport.

"I've never seen a view like this," said Spaselopedus. He was amazed. Sure, he'd viewed orbital space before, but it was always on a small vidplate on the seat in front of him on shuttles.

This was different. Before him was a blue planet with white clouds obscuring the continents. Above it he saw a small round object with spokes radiating out to a ring.

"Is that the station we're going to?" he said.

"Yes," said Cindi. She sounded annoyed.

There was a couple in the front row kissing. Spaselopedus ignored them. Whatever improper things Earthers did in public wasn't his concern. "I think I remember the Captain announcing our ETA as an hour from now."

Cindi ignored his comment. "Aren't the stars beautiful Spencer?" Her hand slid onto his.

Spaselopedus concentrated on the stars in the viewport. If only I had studied astronomy, he thought, I might recognize a constellation and know where I am at least. He became aware of a fruity scent as Cindi's head leaned onto his shoulder.

The couple in front stood up and walked away. Spaselopedus turned his head to watch them disappear down the stairs.

"Where'd they go?" said Cindi.

"Downstairs," he said.

"That means we're alone," her voice became dreamy. She rubbed his hand and moved her head upwards. Her lips touched his neck.

"Cindi?" he said.

"Yes?" she moved up to his jawline.

"We just met a few minutes ago."

"So? Can't we have a little fun to pass the time?" She wasn't pulling away, but let go of his hand and slid her arm around his neck.

The statement dismayed him. To Koplushians, and especially himself, affection was not something to be bandied about. He would never think of lightly pairing up with anyone. It just wasn't proper behavior.

This woman obviously had other ideas. Still, she deserved respect, and he would give her that.

"Cindi," he said turning his face to look at her. As he did so, she forced her lips onto his. At the same time a firm hand came down on Spaselopedus' shoulder.

"What do you think you're doing?" said Linda Prescott.

Cindi pulled away immediately and stood up. Spaselopedus raised his head up enough to see Linda frowning down at him. He jumped up to face her.

"Well?" said Linda, anger in her voice.

He glanced at Cindi and then back at Linda, "It's not what you think." Spaselopedus felt he should defend Cindi's honor. There was no reason for Linda to think less of her.

"It wasn't him," said Cindi. "I started it. I just wanted to have some fun."

Linda wasn't acknowledging her. She kept staring at Spaselopedus, her hands on her hips. "Return to your seat Miss Bechter," she said through gritted teeth. "I'll take care of this."

Cindi mumbled, "He didn't do anything," and began walking to the staircase. When she was out of sight, Linda took Spaselopedus by the arm.

"I've just about had it with you Mr. Oedipus," the use of his last name had a terrible seriousness about it. She had only started using it since he joined the company.

"I'm telling you it was all innocent," he said. "She invited me up for the scenery--"

Linda's eyes narrowed. "I've heard enough. Go downstairs and sit in my seat. I don't want to hear any more."

Spaselopedus did as ordered. Linda was his boss and he assumed she could order him around at any time. He only felt bad that he hadn't defended Cindi better.

 

 

At the spacestation, Spaselopedus, Linda, and the other passengers transferred to another vehicle to travel to the moon. It was a spherical craft with large chemical thrusters.

The inside of the shuttle was divided into several different rooms. There was the main seating area, set up much like the space plane cabin, a cafe type area, and a movie theater.

Spaselopedus spent the entire trip seated next to Linda.

"Have you finished reading the company manual?" she said.

"Yes I have," he answered.

"I suppose you've memorized it as well." Her voice was full of sarcasm.

"Ah, yes, you could say that," he knew she wouldn't believe him.

"Let me see it for a minute," she said. He handed the book over. Linda pressed a few studs on the unit. "Alright, what's the heading of section III?"

Spaselopedus looked straight at her and said, "Section III's heading is 'Duties of Off-Shift Personnel'."

She pressed a few more studs. "Finish this sentence: Following three consecutive days of absence--"

"--employees shall report to the infirmary for medical examination."

Linda looked disgusted. "How do you do that?"

He shrugged. "I just have a good memory."

She quickly handed the book back to him. "Why don't you memorize the company language while you're at it." She unfastened the safety belt, stood up from her seat, and walked down the aisle.

Spaselopedus accessed the other volume in his book. The title screen read 'Esperanto - The Common Language for Mankind'.

He was quite a ways into it when Linda returned. She looked a bit more relaxed.

"Well? Are you fluent yet?" she said.

"Nu, eblas ke mi baldau estos flua," he said.

She digested his response. "Soon huh? I thought you'd say something like that."

"Even if I didn't have a gift for languages," he said, putting the book down in his lap, "Esperanto is very logically constructed. I'm surprised it isn't more widely studied on Earth."

"The thing is," said Linda, "English is the de facto common language over most of the world. For some reason, when our CEO, Hunter Brickman founded Lunacorp he put it in the charter that all employees had to learn Esperanto." Linda sat down and fastened the safety belt. Then she turned to him, an expectant look on her face.

"Why not just use English?" Spaselopedus said.

"I was waiting for that," she said. "Since the war, nationalism has risen to the point where every country wants their own language used."

Spaselopedus was about to comment, but he knew she wouldn't like hearing about the analogical relationship between English/Esperanto and Kopanset/Galacticom. He looked back at her and said, "How long before we reach Luna?"

"What? Oh, about two hours I think. Why?"

"I'm getting anxious to get to work I guess. It's taking a long time to go two hundred and forty thousand miles."

She gave him a warning look. "I'm sorry, your Majesty. It's the best our lowly technology can do. You should have tried it sixty years ago when it took three days to get to the moon."

"You know a lot of history," he said.

"It's a hobby of mine," said Linda. "You seem to be missing a lot of it."

Spaselopedus didn't want to aggravate her again. He let her comment go and picked up his book. After a few moments, Linda pulled out a book of her own from a pocket in her coverall. They spoke very little until reaching Luna.


 

 

 

Luna

 

 

Spaselopedus used his newly issued ID card to open door G-17. His quarters were a mere three by two meter cubicle with two bunks, a fold-out seat with a work surface, and a door. He stowed his spare coveralls and undergarments in the tiny locker and sat on the bottom bunk.

So this is my space for a while, he thought. He opened his wristtop to check the time, it read 17:22: August 5, 2027. Then he noticed a chronometer above the door read the same.

Linda suggested after he got settled in, he meet her in the lounge. Apparently she didn't trust him to be alone till orientation in the morning.

He was hungry anyway, and looked forward to meeting as many people here as possible. If he was going to find a way back to the Alliance, he needed as much information as possible.

Spaselopedus left his quarters and headed for the lounge. He had seen a diagram of the Lunacorp complex in the manual, but the maze-like corridors and junctions still confused him. Luckily he found someone coming the other way and asked directions.

When Spaselopedus found the lounge, he looked around for Linda. She was with two men at a table by the wall. One of the men looked rather rugged with a square jaw and very closely cropped hair. The other looked old, almost elderly, his wrinkled face partially concealed by a well-groomed beard. Spaselopedus was reminded of his deceased grandfather.

There was an empty glass before each of them. Linda waved him over.

"C'mon Spencer, sit down. I want you to meet someone. This is Dr. Samuel Carlson," she indicated the elderly man, "and this is our boss, Dr. Scott Michaels," she said nodding sideways to the rugged man. "Gentlemen, this is my mother's mystery man, Spencer Oedipus."

"Happy to meet you," he said extending his hand, "Dr. Carlson, Dr. Michaels."

"So young man," said Carlson removing his square spectacles, "I understand you're a newcomer to our world." His wrinkled face smiled.

Spaselopedus froze momentarily, then realizing and recovering, "Yes, I just arrived on Luna today with Lin--Ms. Prescott."

"Hmm, first name basis eh?" said Michaels smiling at Linda. "Something we should know about you two?" The three of them began laughing.

"Go get a drink and have a seat Spencer," Linda said gesturing to the counter across the room.

They had obviously been drinking alcohol. Spaselopedus had encountered similar people before and never understood them. He preferred to remain always in control of himself, of his senses. Observers needed to be, it was their badge of office.

"I'm not real thirsty right now," he said. "Maybe I'll just have a seat." Spaselopedus pulled out an empty chair and sat down without looking. He missed most of the seat and landed on the floor.

The three at the table broke out laughing.

"Are you all right my boy?" said Carlson through his snickering.

"I'm fine," he said standing up, "but I'm feeling a little tired from the trip up. If it's all right, I'm going to turn in. It's been nice meeting you, Dr. Michaels, Dr. Carlson."

"There's a staff meeting tomorrow at 09:00," said Michaels. "Don't be late, Mr. Oedipus."

Spaselopedus heard them giggling as he made his way to the door. He left the lounge and headed for his sleeping cubicle.

 

 

During the night, Spaselopedus was awakened by a bright light. He cringed, and covered his eyes with the blanket. There was someone in his room.

"Who is it?" he croaked.

"Ho pardonu," said a bright male voice, "Chu vi estas mia nova sam-chambrano?"

His brain soggy with sleep, it took him a moment to realize the interloper was speaking Esperanto.

"Yes, I'm your new roommate," he said uncovering his head. "I'm Spencer Oedipus."

"I'm Isii Yosiako, did I wake you?"

"It could hardly be helped under these circumstances," said Spaselopedus. Isii was of an ethnic origin he hadn't yet encountered. His skin had a yellowish tone and his eyes were narrow. Dark straight hair covered his head, and he was wearing a gray coverall.

"Sorry about that, I should have remembered it was rotation today. I'll have the light out in a minute."

"It's okay," said Spaselopedus. "I don't mind meeting new people, even in the middle of the night."

"Middle of the night?" Isii smiled. "It's only 23:15."

A glance at the chronometer over the door confirmed the time to Spaselopedus. "Well," he said, "I did turn in kind of early."

"Good idea," Isii unfastened and removed his gray coverall and stuffed it into the duffel bag in his locker, "You'll be alert and refreshed on your first day. Who are you working for anyway?"

Spaselopedus rubbed his eyes, perhaps he wouldn't get back to sleep tonight. "I'm a programmer under Ms.--"

"Not Prescott?" Isii said.

Spaselopedus nodded, having been already cut off.

"Good luck to you then, she's a regular shrew."

"I know," he said lying back on his pillow.

Isii lowered the upper bunk and pulled the bedding down, "Good night roomy. You'll need all the sleep you can get."

The light went out and Isii climbed into his bunk. After some tossing and turning, he settled down and began snoring loudly.

Spaselopedus tried his best to sleep, but found himself concentrating on the noise from above. Finally he slipped out of bed, donned his coverall and left the cubicle.

He decided to try the lounge. It was nearly empty, but there was a vid on. He watched for a while. The news broadcast was shocking. It told of nothing but misery and suffering, people being murdered, starving. It was unbelievable. Was this the Earth containing Barbara Henning and her peaceful homestead?

People slowly disappeared over the past hour or so. Now the lounge was empty except for him and the vidscreen. Spaselopedus changed the station.

He came upon an old man laughing behind a large desk. He was mocking politicians. The man's face was wrinkled, but his eyes possessed a youthful glint when he smiled. Spaselopedus couldn't help but notice the very loud tie around his neck.

"Here's a story I want to tell you folks about tonight," said the man. "Democrat Senator Harold Chance, of California has reported that hackers have recently broken into his financial records and made illegal changes.

Spaselopedus froze for an instant. It was the financial records of Senator Chance that he and Freddie broke into that day in the Stormcreek computer store. Was there any chance they could find out it was him? Had Freddie made the changes after Linda pulled him away? There was nothing Spaselopedus could do about it now, but it concerned him that someone knew.

"That's how it is with liberals folks," the old man on the screen said, lighting up a cigar and puffing it to life, "always blaming someone else for their problems. It's not that Senator Chance should keep his records secure, it's that we should pass the blame onto anyone who gets access to them. Personal responsibility is what's important folks."

"I've gotta take a break here, but I'll be right

back with my special salute to Bob Dole, a hundred and four years old and still going."

 

 

Spaselopedus awoke with a start. The vidscreen was now scrolling a list of morning meeting notices. He checked his wristtop computer for the time. It was 08:55 according to the display. Spaselopedus knew the meeting with Dr. Michaels and Linda started in five minutes. With no time to change or wash, he'd be a mess.

His wristtop began beeping. Spaselopedus wondered at that till he remembered it had a paging function. The display contained the message 'WHERE ARE YOU?' It was from Linda.

Spaselopedus closed the display and ran for the door. He rushed down the connecting corridor and into an elevator. It seemed to take an eternity to drop the two levels.

When the doors parted, he darted into the corridor nearly knocking over the woman waiting for the car.

"I'm sorry!" he called back, continuing onward. By the time he reached the conference room, he was sweating. He tried to enter as quietly as possible but in that small room, there was no such thing as unnoticed.

"Welcome Mr. Oedipus," said Dr. Michaels, facing him from the far end of the table. Spaselopedus recognized Michaels and Linda. There were two others but he only remembered them as faces he'd seen in the lounge the night before.

"I'm very sorry Sir," he said. "I got lost."

"At the very least by the looks of you," said Michaels, frowning. "Take your seat."

Linda was seated directly across from his empty seat. She gave him a most intense look of disapproval as he sat down. He cringed inwardly.

 

 

In hindsight, the meeting had gone quite well. The Pod was now physically built, and most of its control systems were in place. What it ultimately needed was the programming to efficiently control the experimental hyperspace generators.

Experimental hyperspace generators! Spaselopedus thought. He had nearly laughed aloud when Michaels first mentioned them.

Koplushians had been using such devices to traverse the immensity of the cosmos for literally thousands of years. It was closely protected technology--with good reason. It was dangerous. Throughout history others in the Alliance had tried to perfect it with no success.

All he needed to do was a bit of programming and bide his time. When the Pod was finished and ready, he would gain access and use it to return home.

With a little luck, the hyper-jump would be detected by the Space Guard of the Alliance and he would be picked up. Then he could get on with finding out why he was accosted, dumped into this backwater culture and above all who was responsible.


 

 

 

 

Plan

 

 

Linda Prescott entered the security office and marched straight to the desk of Chief Julia Vance.

"I have a favor to ask of you," said Linda.

"And what would that be?"

"I'd like an eye kept on the new guy, Oedipus."

Julia was a tall woman who apparently enjoyed looking over her reading glasses at anyone making requests. "That's odd considering you brought him in."

"I know it is, but you don't understand," said Linda, "I had no choice in the matter. He's a damn good programmer, but I think he's a little loony."

"Oh," Julia removed her glasses, "is he violent then?"

Linda shook her head firmly. "I doubt he could hold his own in a fight. I mean he might be up to something."

"Give me an example."

"I don't have one. Down on Earth he was saying things about other worlds and civilizations--"

Julia smiled, "So maybe he's got an active imagination."

Linda wasn't amused. She leaned forward and whispered, "I caught him hacking into personal financial records."

"Ms. Prescott, you'd be hard-pressed to find a good programmer who hasn't at least dabbled in such things. I could show you reams of files."

Linda threw her hand into the air. "On the trip up, I found him alone with Cindi Bechter."

Julia replaced her glasses and regarded Linda over them. "You find that surpising? Again, just what is it you want me to watch for?"

Linda didn't have a good answer for her. Spencer hadn't as yet done anything to warrant security surveillance. Maybe he was weird, but he wasn't a criminal--yet.

"Never mind Chief," said Linda standing up. "Sorry I wasted your time."

"That's alright," Julia said, "we're not exactly having a crime wave up here."

 

* * *

 

After getting settled in his work, Spaselopedus immediately he realized why he was so needed. The systems for the Pod were so immensely complex that he had been required to create an operating system from scratch twice already.

Judging by the notes they left here, whoever preceded him was totally unqualified. It crossed his mind more than once to try and design hardware closer to what he was accustomed to, but he knew that was impossible. He only knew the software side of things.

His office was in the computer lab. Having been given adequate workspace, he strove to keep it neat. Even Ms. Prescott couldn't complain about that.

The programming came easy to Spaselopedus, but every time he completed a program for the Pod project, one of the systems would be augmented or changed. This required additional programming.

Spaselopedus heard footsteps as Linda entered the lab with her usual clipboard.

"How's it going Spencer?" she said.

"I think I've just about got it Ms. Prescott," said Spaselopedus as he spun around in his swivel chair.

"Sorry," she said placing a sheet on his table. "We've got a few more changes."

He sighed, "When does it end? I thought they knew what they were doing."

"We're just about there. For that matter, providing you keep up the work, we're hoping for a low power test next week."

"Next week? With these changes I've barely scratched the surface."

Linda half turned to go, "Don't worry," she said, "the support systems are easy. It's just important that they use the computer memory in the most efficient way possible. That's your job Spencer," and she left.

Crazy Earthers, he mused, trying to invent something they don't need to. He began the reprogramming, keeping in mind his plans to escape this world.

 

 

A few days later he was in the gymnasium using the exercise machines. It was company mandate that the employees exercise a minimum of one hour daily to avoid muscle atrophy from the light lunar gravity. He was just working up a sweat on the rowing machine when he heard Dr. Carlson's voice. He removed his heads-up display and looked around the room.

"Saluton, Doktoro Carlson," he hailed using his Esperanto. "Kiel vi fartas?"

"I am well," Carlson replied in kind. "How do you like the job?"

"It's got its challenges, but I think I'll manage," said Spaselopedus.

"Well, you've certainly learned the company lingo quickly. If I didn't know better I'd have sworn you were a native." Carlson chuckled.

Spaselopedus paused for a moment. How could there be native speakers of a constructed language?

"It's a joke," said Carlson adjusting his glasses.

"Ah, I get it," he said. A smile broke across his face. "My roommate doesn't speak English, so I get plenty of practice."

Carlson nodded. "That is why we have a company language. Anyway, I was wondering how you've been feeling. Linda--I mean, Ms. Prescott mentioned you have no memory of where you're from?"

"That's right, the first thing I remember is Barbara--Ms. Prescott's mother bringing me back to health." Spaselopedus had contrived this story for just such occasions; the truth was stranger than fiction to these people.

"Have you seen a doctor? There could be damage. Linda said you were badly beaten."

"Yes," he said. His hand moving to the last patch of color under his left eye. "The doctor in Sacramento examined me before being hired. He said nothing was out of whack."

"Well, that's good. I'd hate to think talent like yours requires a knock on the skull." Carlson glanced at the chrono on the wall. "Well, guess I'll go in for my steam now. Ghis revido."

"Ghis la," said Spaselopedus going back to his cyber-rowing.

 

 

The next day, Spaselopedus got to see more of the Lunacorp facility.

"This is my section," said Isii Yosiako, speaking loud to be heard over the noise. He agreed to show Spaselopedus around the Lunacorp facility during their off hours. They had just entered the manufacturing and maintenance dome.

From the raised catwalk they stood on, he saw machines sparking and smoking, performing unknown functions. It reminded Spaselopedus of the vid-graphs he had seen of the vast manufacturing complexes beneath the surface of planet Onif.

"We create and repair any specialized equipment here," said Isii.

"You don't get anything from Earth?" said Spaselopedus.

"Well," Isii's hand made a wavering gesture, "we don't have all the resources required, but we come damn close to self sufficiency."

"Did you build the Pod here?"

"No. That came up from Houston in sections." His hand went to Spaselopedus' shoulder. "I didn't say we worked miracles here."

He looked up and across the high ceiling. It looked like solid stone. "How long did it take to carve out all this rock?"

"We didn't," Isii smiled. "This cavern was discovered as is. Most of the Lunacorp complex is built subterraneously, or maybe that should be sub-lunarally?"

"I suppose that's to limit exposure to cosmic radiation," said Spaselopedus. The residential complexes on Koplushia were built underground for the very same reason. Koplushia, being metal poor, lacked a substantial magnetic field to shield it.

"Mmm hmm. C'mon," said Isii checking his wristtop, "I only have a little time. I'll show you Hydroponics next."

 

 

After passing through an airlock arrangement, Isii brought Spaselopedus into another cavernous area. This one, however was certainly well lit, very warm and humid.

"It's certainly bright in here," said Spaselopedus, squinting in the glare. He saw a huge expanse before him filled with rows of elongated pyramids.

"We have to use artificial lighting to grow our food," Isii said. "Fifteen days out of the month we're in darkness, otherwise we'd probably have a clear dome over us with the stars looking in."

Spaselopedus noticed the woman with red hair tending one of the pyramids. It was Cindi from the space plane. She was plucking plants off the outside of the pyramids and placing them in a basket.

"What is she doing?" he pointed down to where Cindi was working.

"Who?" Isii turned his head. "Oh, it looks like she's harvesting lettuce. Did you want to be introduced?"

"No. Um, we met on the trip up," said Spaselopedus, remembering the episode.

Isii turned to him, a smile on his face. "Well, at least you know where to go when you're lonely eh?"

The idea that Isii would think that way angered him, "It wasn't like that at all." Spaselopedus used a measured tone.

"Alright, you don't have to tell me about it," Isii was still grinning.

"Listen," said Spaselopedus looking him in the eye, "I don't want you to talk about her or anyone else that way."

"Okay," Isii's hands went up in surrender, "Enough said."

Spaselopedus wondered how such an attitude towards women could exist. His grandfather had always taught him to respect others. Only the sound of spraying water filled the silence between the two men.

"I have to go," said Isii glancing at his wristtop. "My shift starts in half an hour."

Spaselopedus noticed Cindi walking towards them. I bet that's why he wants to go, he thought. He's embarrassed.

"I'm sure I can find my way back Isii. Thanks for the tour."

"I'll try not to wake you when I come in tonight Spencer."

"Thanks," said Spaselopedus, watching him leave. He turned back to see Cindi continuing her approach. She was wearing a green coverall with a matching cloth cap and carrying a metal mesh box filled with plants.

"Hi Spencer," she said smiling. "What are you doing here?"

Spaselopedus gestured over his shoulder at his retreating roommate, "Isii was giving me a tour of the place, but he had to leave."

"Well, I could show you around a bit."

"I don't want to take you away from your work," he said.

"It's alright," she looked over her shoulder, "I'd consider it a little repayment for getting you in trouble with Ms. Prescott."

"Don't let that bother you," he said. "Here, let me take that basket."

"Thanks," she handed it over, "have you ever seen a hydroponics facility before?"

"No, I haven't." Spaselopedus thought of the time his school toured the foodcube manufactory. He had learned how the cultivated algae was processed into the protein-rich staple of the Koplushian diet. To grow plants in such a way as this was strange to him.

"It's very simple really." She stepped over to one of the pyramids and pulled a plant out. "The roots are sprayed with a balanced nutrient solution on the inside while out here the leaves receive light." As she said this, she popped the plant back into its hole.

"Without any soil?" he said.

"Soil is basically only to keep a plant upright. It's just easier to use the pyramids."

Spaselopedus' arms were beginning to ache from holding the basket. "Could we put this where it goes? It's getting heavy."

"Sure, follow me."

Cindi led him between the rows of plants to a room with a table filled with similar baskets. "Put it anywhere," she said.

Spaselopedus hefted his burden onto the table and looked around. There were baskets filled with various vegetables, some of which he recognized from his time at Barbara's homestead.

"How much stuff is in here?"

"Enough to feed about five hundred people," she said.

"Is this what we're having for breakfast tomorrow?" he said.

"No," she said smiling, "the melons and grapefruits for breakfast were harvested yesterday. It takes time to process these vegetables. This lot is slated for lunch day after tomorrow."

"I'll appreciate my food more now," said Spaselopedus. "I had the idea it was shipped up from Earth."

"Oh, no," Cindi shook her head, causing her braid to swing to and fro behind her head, "we can do most of this on our own. There's very little required from home."

"Spencer," Cindi said, "I want to apologize for my behavior on the plane."

"There's no need to," he looked into her eyes. "It's all in the past."

"I want you to know, I don't just come on to every guy I meet," she said.

Spaselopedus wasn't sure whether he should take that as a compliment or not. "I think you should just take your relationships a bit slower," he said.

Cindi nodded and bowed her head, "I know. I'm sorry I got you in trouble."

Spaselopedus grinned, "Don't worry about it." His initial impression of her had been crude, but now he realized she was just being human.

He didn't have a sister, yet somehow he felt sisterly affection for this woman. Her behavior might be typical of the young on Earth, and it was not his place to judge. He must keep his attention focused on returning home.

Spaselopedus glanced at his wristtop to see the time. "I'd better get going," he said. "My shift starts soon and you know what Ms. Prescott is like."

"Yes I do," said Cindi. "Stop by again anytime you like."

"Thanks," said Spaselopedus.


 

 

 

 

Caught

 

 

In three days the Pod would be ready to launch. Spaselopedus leaned back in his chair to admire his lines of code on the screen. His plan was unfolding perfectly. The night before the launch he would gain access to the Pod, run his nested subroutine and be on his way back to civilization. How he missed the vid, foodcubes and VR adventures on his dispex.

He took out a granola bar from his desk drawer and opened it. After a cursory examination, he took a bite.

"How I miss foodcubes," he said aloud.

"What?" said Linda behind him.

"Uh, nothing Ms. Prescott."

"Well, you may think it's nothing, but I've got something Mr. Oedipus." She came around to face him and placed a printout on his keyboard.

"What's this?" he said looking up at her. Had she found an error in his coding?

Her face was full of satisfaction, "Did you really think you could fool me? Anyone could spot it."

Oh no, could she have discovered...?

"I found the back door you put in the system, Spaceman. Did you think we weren't checking?" She banged the keyboard with her hand.

"It's not what you think," he said. "You have to believe me." Somehow he must diffuse her anger long enough to escape. It was only three days away.

"If we didn't need you so badly..." She spun around and began pacing. "I could have you put away for corporate espionage. Did you know that?"

Linda ranted on for another five minutes. Spaselopedus simply stared at her trying to find a way out of this mess. Finally she paused, as if out of things to say.

"So what are you going to do?" he said. "Go to Dr. Michaels?"

She put her hands on her hips and looked at him, "No, I can't do that. I got you hired. If anything happens I'm the one who'll look bad."

If he stood his ground, she would likely demand something drastic. Spaselopedus proposed a solution.

"Linda," he said, watching for her reaction, "I'll take my back door out of the code right here and now if you like. I only needed it to test a few ideas anyway."

Her expression softened a bit; she was going for it.

"Alright," she said, pointing a finger into his chest, "but I'm going to review every piece of your work from now until the launch. No more tricks."

Spaselopedus shrugged. "Deal," he said grabbing the printout and finding the indicated section in the computer. If only she knew that was the one I wanted her to find, he thought with relief.

 

 

The day had arrived. Spaselopedus finished the programming and the Pod was being readied for its first flight. His plan was still intact. He slipped out of his quarters without waking Isii and made his way cautiously down the warren of corridors to the Pod's airlock. He pressed the button and the airlock door opened. Before him was the door to the Pod, his way home at last. Once inside the lock, he opened the door and entered.

The mid-deck contained the controls, life support, and computer interfaces. He stepped across the stretched-metal deck to the control couch and sat in it.

Spaselopedus activated the computer and began entering instructions into his hidden subroutine. Just as he finished, he heard faint noises coming down the corridor to the Pod, as if the airlock was being opened.

 

* * *

 

Linda made her way down the corridor. She had been monitoring Spencer on the security cameras since their confrontation. When she reached the Pod airlock, she paused to listen, then opened the door.

I don't know what he's up to, she thought, but I'm going to find out. Cautiously, she entered the airlock, closed it and entered the Pod.

"Spencer," she said, "I know you're in here. Come on out."

She stood there listening. The Pod wasn't that big. There was only one place to hide. Her eyes followed the ladder to the upper deck.

"I hear you breathing up there," she lied. "Get down here now or you'll be in more trouble than you know! I'm serious."

Spaselopedus peeked down from the upper deck, "Okay, I'm coming down," he said. Halfway down the ladder, however, he leaped out for the console and pressed the Pod launch control.

"What are you doing?" screamed Linda. She heard the clunk of the holding clamp releasing. Spencer stood by the control couch looking defiant. "I'm going home!" he said.

A loud roar filled her ears and suddenly she was pressed onto the floor from the increased G-forces. The Pod was rocketing towards lunar orbit. The wind was knocked out of her from the impact. When she regained her feet, she saw Spencer at the controls. The display showed a five second countdown in progress.

"Stop it!" she shouted. "You can't do this!"

"It's too late." He was looking at the control console. "I already have."


[Chapters 1-5][Index][Chapters 11-15]


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.

Dave Rutan