Five more minutes of muttering turned out to be one and half, at which point Salvo put down the pad she hadn’t figured out how to properly use yet and declared herself ready to go on a mission.
‘Well, your enthusiasm is appreciated, but…’
‘To Mezza Yat, the same one Cav went to.’
‘Then we can check up on him, see that he’s okay.’
‘I thought I just explained that,’ said Jemba, glancing at Trig for assistance. ‘Even if you go through the same portal, your friend…Emma Goldman, Cav, whatever their name is…will not recognise you.’
‘Because of the memory patch, I know. I just want to know he’s safe. Observe it with my own eyes.’
‘No, but…’ Jemba stopped, resting a hand against one of the glowing green circles on the alcove wall. ‘You do understand what a memory patch is, right?’
‘You gave him fake memories?’
‘More like a new identity. And it’s not just him, it’s for all first-timers. You will have a memory patch too, which means you won’t know who your friend is, which means…’
‘…you won’t know or care if he’s safe or not,’ finished Trig.
‘I don’t get it. You mean, we won’t know who we are?’
‘For that mission, no.’
Jemba looked at his pad and shook his head. ‘Look, I know I qualified myself as your guide, but…these questions you’re asking, they’re not supposed to be asked yet. They’re for tomorrow, when you choose your mission.’
‘We can’t help it, he’s our friend.’
‘Yes, that is the irregular part. And I’m attempting to be sympathetic…that’s why I allowed you five minutes of muttering just now…but there are limits to what my programming will allow.’
‘What do you mean?’
Jemba poked the side of his head with his finger. ‘If I don’t stick to the patterned schedule, my pathways will start to mimic anxiety. Eventually, it’ll become a migraine.’
‘You can get headaches?’
‘Get is not the more precise word.’
‘They program you to feel headaches?’
‘In effect, yes. So perhaps sympathy could work both ways and we could push on with the itinerary?’
Trig looked at Salvo, who was now skimming through the pad, probably for the section on memory patches. ‘We can walk and talk…’ he conceded.
‘Can you do that too, Salvo?’
She stopped and looked up, something close to an epiphany etched on her face.
‘More understandable now?’
‘I think so.’
‘Walk and talk?’
‘I still have questions.’
‘Yeah, that’s the talking part.’
‘Okay. Then I’m ready.’
‘Fantastic.’ Jemba hit the side of his head a couple of times. ‘Only twenty-seven minutes and fourteen seconds out of sync. Should be able to make some of it up if we walk fast.’
The main concourse outside may have been busier than earlier or it may have been off-peak hours, it was impossible to tell as Trig’s memories were pure chaos at that point.
In terms of floor space, it looked more spacious, more open. And the aliens swirling about seemed to be smaller in size.
But perhaps they were just more adapted to things now? Like when you were a child, all adults seemed like giants, then when you grew up, you realised some of them were only 160cm.
Trig shared the analogy with Salvo, but she was too busy rotating her pad to respond. Apparently, it wasn’t working as the map wouldn’t come up. Then as soon as she said it, it came up. Looking satisfied, she scanned the concourse and said, ‘seems quieter than earlier.’
‘You think?’ said Trig, stifling a laugh.
‘Either that or my memory’s faulty.’
‘It’s about the same as it always is,’ Jemba assured them, going on to explain that most aliens on the station had different sleep patterns so there was no stretch of time that was exclusively day or night, no fixed opening hours for stores or centres, no rush hours.
‘Are all three levels like this?’ asked Trig, swiping across his pad screen and bringing up a holographic image of the first floor.
‘The three primary levels, no. It declines in crowd density as you move up each floor, this one being the busiest due to…well, several factors, but mostly Bar Trauma and the embassies.’
Trig opened his mouth to offer a follow-up, but was silenced by an abrupt, electronic shriek.
An atom-stalk alien slid past on its ball-body…limbs, torso, whatever the terminology was…and then did an abrupt slide left and back towards them. Apparently it recognised Jemba, as it positioned itself right in front of him, blocking the way.
‘You on the ground again, skin?’ they said, the voice sputtering out of one of the left-hand side atom-like stems.
‘Ja-shin-uk…’ replied Jemba, copying the atom-stalk alien’s jagged vocal style. ‘I thought you were in the Upper Section now?’
‘Demoted. Death struggle.’
‘Not my fault, skin. They challenged me, I said no. They called my carers bad names. I fought.’
‘And killed them?’
‘Brief only. Green got them back. But they call me unpredictable, unreliable, so demoted. Don’t care much, boring up there, vibrant down here.’
Trig listened to the exchange and tried to keep his facial expressions steady. Then he thought about his face and wondered if the atom-stalk alien even knew what expressions meant. Could he glare at the alien and get away with it? Was it even a they? Or an it?
Looking down at his pad again, he caught Salvo wiping her hand on her jogging pants.
‘You okay?’ he asked.
Her answer was a little too loud, getting the attention of the atom-stalk alien, who slid to the side and back again, the same way the two sparrers had done earlier in Bar Trauma.
‘You are scared,’ the alien said, in their stuttering style.
In her usual way, Salvo heard the word scared and lifted herself up straight, ready to launch a tirade at whoever had said it, but in this case, it was unclear what or which part of the alien she should shout at.
Did they have a face?
Not any that was similar to humans.
Was one of the atoms balls performing that function?
It seemed to be where their voice was coming from, but that could be some kind of audio trick.
She had no way to know.
Unless Jemba told her, but he wasn’t doing anything, just standing there like a lemon. Wasn’t he supposed to be their guide?
‘Defensive posture,’ said the alien. ‘Accepted. You can go high on this station, skin.’
‘I’m not defensive.’
‘Salvo…’ said Trig, putting an arm out and clipping the edge of her jacket.
‘He started it.’
‘Let Jemba handle it.’
Trig looked left at the hologram, who seemed to be vaguely aware that his name had just been spoken. ‘Jemba?’
‘I think he’s broken,’ said Salvo, her eyes shifting left.
Another shrieking noise, this time a little higher in pitch.
The atom-stalk alien slid forward an inch and pushed forward one of their stems. It didn’t make contact with Salvo, but it got pretty damn close to her cheek. In response, she pulled her arms in and covered her chest.
‘No distraction. Remember that.’
‘She hasn’t read the profiles yet,’ interjected Jemba, whose voice seemed to be a bit more distant than two minutes earlier. ‘Give her a chance.’
‘Chance already given. You must be asleep.’
‘I was processing something.’
‘She is unfinished, but firm. Maybe test again later.’
The atom-stalk alien retracted their stem and darted off, heading in a zig-zag line to Bar Trauma. When they were gone, Salvo wiped her palms on her jacket again then turned to Jemba and glared at maximum setting.
‘Sorry, I should’ve guided you away from that.’
‘Fucking yes, you should’ve.’
‘You did okay though. Held your ground.’
‘I thought he was gonna attack me…those little stalk tentacle things.’
‘They, not he. And they wouldn’t have attacked you…just bullied you a bit. If you’d let them. Which you didn’t.’
Salvo looked like she was about to growl. Instead, she let out a huge audible breath and fixed her glare on Bar Trauma.
‘What was the death struggle thing they talked about?’
‘They said they had a death struggle. That someone died briefly.’
‘Oh that. Yeah, that’s a tradition thing…something they do…’
Jemba looked past Trig, but not at any one thing in particular. Trig turned and tried to see what he was so distracted by, but there didn’t seem to be anything special nearby. One or two red-skinned aliens looking their way, a humanoid tilting her head at them, nothing else.
‘Why don’t we move on?’ asked Jemba, his voice wobbling a bit. ‘Check out the other side of the ground floor ring?’
‘Is it quieter there?’ asked Salvo.
‘Can we go somewhere that is?’
‘We will, don’t worry. Just have to get the ground floor done with first. It’s where most of the main facilities are.’ He nudged both Trig and Salvo in the arms, his eyes feigning pep and brightness. ‘Come on, walk and talk again.’
They resumed course, taking the outside lane of the ring and avoiding the occasional earphone alien sliding by on the walls. Apparently, that was how they travelled, probably to stop themselves being trampled on by the larger aliens and humanoids.
Despite this alien highway, Salvo kept close to the wall, still wiping her hands on her jogging pants from time to time. It was fairly obvious to Trig what was going on with her, but he didn’t want to suggest the red light again as it might piss her off.
Luckily, their hologram guide was more perceptive than Trig realised, and stopped next to the Trivial Security entrance. It was like the eye of the storm, no other alien or humanoid going anywhere near them. In fact, they seemed to be going out of their way to avoid it.
‘One note of advice I forgot to give you,’ said Jemba softly, putting his hands on their forearms. ‘The more exotic-looking aliens can give you the false impression that there are more than there really are. For first-timers that can be quite overwhelming. Try to focus on the humanoids and other humans instead, it’ll make things more comfortable.’
‘How many aliens are there exactly?’ asked Trig.
‘About twelve on this station. Five of them humanoid, four exotic, three human. Though don’t call them that. Especially the Nabians. They’re very sensitive about this kind of thing.’
‘Are the humanoids and humans all related in some way?’
‘Nabians, Terzo Collective, Krsnik, yes. The humanoids, not sure. At some point in the past, probably. But you’ll have to go to a specific embassy for that kind of information.’
‘Embassies?’ asked Salvo, her arm still being held by Jemba.
‘That’s the name for them, but in truth they function more like education centres. Each alien species has one, here on the ground floor. You see that entrance over there?’ He pointed to a façade with red craters dug into it. ‘That’s the Canni Tut Embassy, the alien species you just met.’
‘We can go in there?’
‘Sure, that’s the whole point of them. Integration and education, learn about the aliens around you so you don’t end up murdering them.’
‘That’s a bit extreme.’
‘It’s their slogan, on the inside wall as you walk in.’
‘They do seem quite aggressive,’ said Salvo, finally pulling her arm away from Jemba’s grip and scanning the crowd nearby.
‘They’re not that bad once you get to know them. None of them are. Basha, I shouldn’t even talk like that, it’s like amateur day.’ He cleared his throat. ‘Like humans, each species has a variety of characters, rituals, trigger points. Ja-shin-uk back there…the alien…was their own self. Different from other Canni Tut, just like we are different from each other. Though, having said that, I don’t think I’ve ever met a Canni Tut who was shy.’
‘You’re talking about stereotypes…’ said Salvo.
‘Sounds patronising, I know, but this is one of the biggest problems first-timers have. The tendency to group aliens into one homogenous mass. That’s why I had to say it to you, cos I know you’ve probably watched movies that do the exact opposite. Even the news on Earth plays with your head this way. Like, what do you know about Tanzanians?’
‘I’ve never met any.’
‘What did you think, when you first saw me?’
‘Nothing,’ replied Trig.
‘Relieved,’ said Salvo.
‘Cos I was human?’
‘Did you think, oh, a Tanzanian guy or, oh, an African guy?’
‘African, I guess.’
‘Is that where Tanzania is?’ asked Trig, confused. ‘I thought it was in South America.’
‘Okay, now extrapolate this to aliens. What are they like? It’s like them asking each other, what are humans like?’
‘Stereotypes,’ Salvo repeated.
‘It’s not one person’s fault, it’s just instinctive. Media-assisted too. Or perhaps instinctive because of media assistance. What’s the word for that again? Inculcation? Anyway, stereotypes…that’s the reason I was trying to…’
Jemba faded out of his own dialogue, looking with a frown at the area surrounding them.
Both Trig and Salvo followed his line of sight, expecting to see something odd or compelling, but there was nothing but random humanoids and aliens moving around, same as usual. The only slightly weird thing was that some of them were staring over at them. Apart from that, nothing.
‘We should move on again…’ said Jemba, rubbing the side of his temple and looking upwards. ‘The second floor…’
‘I thought we had to finish down here first…’
‘No, I think we’re done. Bar Trauma, Embassies, Security, Therapy Centre, all the main stuff. Nothing interesting around the other side of the ring, just some snack places and the Choose Your Mission Centre. Training Centre next door to that, but we don’t need that one until...next week…when you get your-…’
He broke off again, jumping from alien face to alien face to alien whatever in the crowd that was starting to grow increasingly dense around them.
‘Is it just me or are we being surrounded?’ asked Salvo, spotting two humanoids at the side and attempting a wave.
‘Maybe we did something weird,’ offered Trig.
‘I don’t know.’
‘It could be our faces.’
Trig was confused for a second then realised what she meant. ‘I don’t think they can tell that kind of difference.’
‘Then why are they gawping at us?’
Trig double-checked the alien faces, unsure that gawp was the right word. Most of them weren’t human, some of them weren’t even humanoid. However, their faces and tulips and triangular-shaped heads were pointed their way.
‘In here, follow me.’
Without waiting for affirmation, Jemba walked backwards and into the funnel-like entrance of Trivial Security. As he passed through, Trig noticed specks of green light appearing on the hologram’s red and white striped top, only to disappear again instantly. Was that a glitch?
‘Quickly…’ Jemba shouted from inside, his eyes still furtively darting from left to right to above to left and even his own chest.
Salvo took one look at the mass of encroaching alienness and rushed in, while Trig waited a moment and then casually strolled after her.
The green specks appeared again, laid down spots on various places of his sports jacket, then disappeared. He wasn’t afraid as he’d already walked through a cloud of similar green stuff in the translator room, but he was curious. These particles were different; sparse, evasive, like they were there and not there simultaneously. Like they didn’t want to be noticed.
Ah, the security centre…green light, futuristic scanner vibe…it must be a forcefield.
As soon as the idea came to him, the green specks doubled down, this time gathering in the air in front of him and brushing over his face as he walked through.
A slightly stronger forcefield, he guessed. In case the first one was defective. Or a particularly tough and determined alien broke through.
He dusted himself off, checking for any damage or irregularities, and then soaked in the room around him. In his head, he thought it would be dimly-lit, with a stern, shape-shifting security officer staring back at him, maybe four spot-lights hanging down from above his desk.
But then he remembered there were no desks in Ohm Station 7.
And apparently no security officers either.
- off in the Oort Cloud
Still finding my feet here.
I’ve written a few series, and will put them up at some point, but thought it would be best to start with some fairy tales.
An ambition of mine is to write something with a universe comparable to Star Trek. Sometimes I watch [and re-watch] Deep Space Nine and feel incredibly jealous. To get to the point in a series where you can set up something of that complexity…the Bajoran-Cardassian historical context, the wormhole, the Dominion, the Klingons…even some of the Ferengi episodes aren’t that bad…
That said, I have no idea how the Klingon Empire manages to continue functioning.
My over-arching plan is to do a series for a few months, posting twice a week, then switch to a different series and, if there’s any demand for it, do a second instalment of one of the earlier ones. I hope that makes sense.
I’ve seen other authors on here posting up to five times a week…not sure how they have the energy to do that, but it’s extremely impressive. With the right drugs, I might be able to manage three times a week…