episode one / chapter two…
This was stupid. He could only think about what his boss would say. Deep down, he knew such a focus was a waste of time. There existed so much to be concerned with, to be worried about. To be freaked out about, actually. This was a disaster that he had no idea how to deal with. And yet, he sat still, obsessed with trying to formulate some sort of explanation as to what had happened that his non-present boss would accept.
Could he come up with anything that the forever grumpy Floomer would find believable? Something that he wouldn’t instantly reject? Perhaps, given ample time and peace and quiet to concentrate, a reasonable story might be concocted. Was that possible now?
Erke turned and looked back at his commuter saucer. Smoke billowed out from the engine section. The energy shield sparked and fizzled. His mug of warm instant lay broken on the snowy ground, spilling its’ delicious brown contents all over the Earth.
Unfortunately, no, it didn’t appear likely that there would be any time, peace, or quiet in his immediate future.
He let out a heavy sigh and walked around to the back of the ship. It rested, crumpled but intact, sticking up from the solid soil at a forty-five degree angle. His hands reached up and pulled the smooth black bars of the access panel, which broke away easily with one modest yank. Where it had been, three small compartment doors remained. Erke reached for the middle one and typed his five number code on the keypad. Nothing happened.
“Oh come on.”
He punched the sequence again.
“Ugggggggggh! Would you just open?!?”
Three more tries, but no change in result.
Erke’s fingers flew over the pad several more times, pushing the keys in the right order, then in any order, and then all at once. He wanted to punch the panel hard to show it his fury, but instead slapped it softly with his right hand, so as not to cause himself pain. He tried to kick the mounted device in frustration, but his foot didn’t reach that high. With the miss he spun in place, finishing his tantrum by stomping both feet on the hard icy ground. He looked down.
“And why is it so cold here?!?”
His bass-laden voice boomed, bouncing off the terrain and carrying far through the peaceful white meadow. He scanned his surroundings, momentarily frightened that his outburst may have awoken some massive earthen beast. When nothing stirred, he returned his attention to the ship.
“Fine, I don’t get my dumb travel bag. Whatever, idiot broken down useless ship. Maybe there is something else I can use to warm up.”
He poked his long face into the passenger module, where he had spent the long and unplanned journey away from his home planet of Shifka to this horribly freezing world. The area was a state, with nothing in its original place. His white, nearly pupil-less eyes looked over the mess, trying to spot something that could provide some sort of barrier against the cold. From under the pilot’s chair, a tuft of red fabric caught his attention.
“Ah, emergency blanket. It’s better than nothing.”
Erke reached in and pulled the neat bundle from its home. He undid the strap around it and shook it out to its full length. It appeared roughly six feet long, or about one foot shorter than the figure that held it.
“Of course. What is this, child’s size?”
He took the corners of one end, tied them together around his neck, and draped the rest of the blanket behind. With a shrug at the otherwise bare surroundings, he stepped in the direction of the one structure in view. A small dilapidated dwelling sat nestled not too far away. A soft breeze began blowing from ahead, billowing the blanket draped from his massive shoulders. From a distance, it almost appeared as if this large creature, walking purposefully in the direction of Joe Logan’s property, was wearing a cape.
There seemed no good reason to linger next to his incapacitated vessel. Nobody on Shifka knew about his plight, thus a recovery transport had little feasibility of dropping out of the sky. Plus, a crashing saucer might be the type of thing that drew the attention of nearby humans. He didn’t know what they were like, but being away from a gathering horde of earthlings seemed like good strategy.
Erke got a C-minus in Outer Civilization Humanities. The class, a degree requirement, tested him on pictures and diagrams and factoids of the dozen or so worlds that contained life outside his planet’s jurisdiction. These were places where the prime inhabitants were at least moderately evolved and, as a result, considered dangerous enough to be worthy of being studied.
The twice weekly lecture had been based on observations and intelligence culled from years of reporting from on-the-ground scientific surveyors. This information was supposed to be beneficial to the students, in case they ever took a vacation on these far off lands, or had the desire of a career as a surveyor. Erke had neither. Traveling sounded like a hassle, as he hated the idea of being anywhere that didn’t broadcast his favorite shows. And who wanted a job in surveying? He couldn’t imagine anything more boring.
His concentration waned during the classes, making understanding the differences between Hoarks and Upper Medulians and Earthlings all the more difficult. They all looked alike, he complained. So this one needed oxygen and this one didn’t. Who cares? Disinterest nearly torpedoed his schooling, until he rallied in the last two weeks of the term by creating a complex and well received presentation for the final. Well, his younger brother Emkie created it, actually. And Emkie didn’t make it for him, but for a class at his own more highly regarded junior institution. Still, Erke had to explain the in-depth production in front of the whole class. That was worth a passing grade in the end, he figured.
Erke got through the scholarly requirement, and surmised that his lack of attention there wouldn’t cause any problems or lost opportunities in life. He had given no real thought to the people and places of the outer contingent since the C-minus, and everyone seemed to get along just fine. In fact, as of just one day prior, there had not been a single instance where he wished he absorbed some, or any, of that subject matter.
Eighteen men in green fatigues held black devices in their hands. They each pointed the narrow, hollow end at the unknown being. He looked at them blankly, unsure what kind of greeting this was. Was this a common type of welcoming? Or, were they threatening him? The answer to both questions, he began to realize, was yes.