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Jim Able: Offworld

Episode One

ABLE

Ed Charlton

Copyright

© 2017 Ed Charlton

All rights reserved.

ISBN 978-1-935751-35-9

*

Published by Scribbulations LLC

PO Box 1106

Kennett Square

PA 19348

USA

Dedicated

To Grace

Prelude

Turcanis Major:

Fourteen planets, including two gas giants.

Planet Five is habitable, no sentient life, but has two moons, one of which is home to a technological race.

The Pocket Atlas of Known Space, p. 656

When the sky is spread with reflection,

and water-rushing rises below,

night-flames flicker pale in supplication,

then all are called by Beauty to believe.

Margrev Aplar of the Second Order

Chapter One

Jim Able was watching television. He was watching, over and over, a recording he’d made of a recent comedy show.

#

Three members of a Turcanian family are talking in their living room. A fourth enters the room, possibly the youngest of the family. He is wearing a hooded blue cloak, similar to “Edward’s.” The audience buzzes as he walks on stage. The father says, “Oh no, take that off! You’re not going to the marshes!”

The audience roars with laughter, and the boy reluctantly takes off the cloak.

#

“Why is that funny?” Jim asked aloud.

The images flickered, and the scene replayed. Jim shook his head. Lucy Fry’s people had put together a good training class in the Turcanian language and culture. Good enough, in fact, to give Jim a clear understanding of news programming. Comedy, alas, was another matter.

He added to his notes.

Is blue robe indigenous to the marshes?

Is “going to marshes” equiv. leaving home? Like knotted handkerchief & stick?

He intended to show this scene to his contact and ask the question directly. It bothered him. It fascinated him.

Jim’s small spacecraft, burnt and paintless, held position above the northern pole of Turcanis Major V. A tethered transceiver array floated listlessly from its rear. The craft adjusted its orientation, keeping in view TMV-I, the largest moon, circumscribing its orbit of the planet spinning slowly below.

He sighed and stopped the playback. He still needed to find his contact. No, he still needed to choose his contact. It had been five Earth days, three and a half TMV days, or seven TMV-I days—depending on how he counted it. Whichever way, he should have been moving in. He should have chosen by now.

Jim still thought that Liz Curacao was wrong. There was no evidence that this trader, “Edward,” was sponsored by the government; he appeared to be a lone entrepreneur. Jim worried that he’d not seen any mention of a space program on news shows so far. He could be walking into a first contact situation, not a second. He knew he had to be careful—given the sensitivities that new races always have about aliens. And, after the lecture Liz had given him at the briefing, he had another reason to be careful: jobs like his were hard to come by.

Jim looked down at his notes on the contact. He had the names of many leading politicians; one religious leader; and someone he thought was a judge, but the translation of the office was ambiguous.

The politicians were problematic. TMV-I society enjoyed many political parties and endless rounds of debates and voting. Choosing a party’s leader could be seen as an off-world endorsement of that party. He needed someone independent, preferably someone with scientific credibility.

He glanced up at a grainy head-and-shoulders picture of Edward taped up in the cockpit. He looked at the bare, bumpy head, the forehead extending over the eyes.

“For someone so ugly, you’ve sure caused a lot of trouble.”

From his lonely vantage point, Jim Able went back to watching live television.

While he watched, his mind drifted. The cockpit seat was uncomfortable for a long trip like this.

The first flier at the rental agency had been great. It had had a state-of-the-art cockpit. It had had a sleeping berth. It had had paint. It had gleamed in the faint sunlight. It had stunk.

They had tried to disguise the smell, probably spraying deodorizer until the controls were dripping. But it only took one inexperienced pilot to throw up in an unexpected moment of zero-G, and nothing cheap would fix it.

So, he had taken the other one: scarred, burnt, cramped—but functional. It had a combined decontamination/shower/toilet unit, often referred to as the shit-shave-shower-shpecial. His seating choice was there or the cockpit; there was nowhere else to go.

He lowered the back of his seat to lie flat. The sound of alien speech rolled over him as he drifted off to sleep.

The voice that woke him was high-pitched and whiney, delivering its words in an overly rapid fashion. Jim scratched his head and sat up. The TV show, a panel discussion, featured a solemn-voiced moderator, two shifty-looking politicians, and the owner of the voice, clearly a female.

As he listened, Jim began to smile. The Turcanian was a scientist. She mentioned her own show, so she was a TV personality of some sort. She was also making the politicians squirm.

“You idiots are so engrossed in your petty arguments you never look up! You’ve forgotten the whole of the rest of the galaxy that’s out there. When are you going to quit wasting our money and leave some resources for science? Especially astronomy! You’re making self-aggrandizing decisions at the expense of our whole species. It’s pathetic!”

“Hello,” Jim said to the face on the screen. “I represent the rest of the galaxy.”

He watched until the show ended and the moderator was thanking his guests.

“...Professor Madhar Nect, of the Latsin Institute, presenter of Science World, [something that didn’t translate] of Gullara...”

“Okay, Ms. Madhar Nect, you have my attention. Expect the unexpected,” Jim said.

He set about making breakfast. The plan for initiating contact would take some time to work through. He wanted to be wide-awake and undistracted.

The first part of the plan was to acquire some Turcanian currency.

Gornna Finance was offering a credit account with no background checks. That sounded good. To qualify, all Jim needed was an address. He flipped through his notes. In a kids’ TV show, he had learned how to form addresses.

He targeted the flier’s transceivers on one of TMV-I’s communication satellites. He set the hacking program to mimic a call

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