Sunday, December 25, 2016

From Interstellar Pirate to Cosmic Castaway.

Rick Telemon made a mad dash for the encampment once he got the “Bug Out” signal.  But he stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the alien waiting there.  
And, strangest thing of all…  It was looking at him.  
Rick leaned against the opening to the enclosure the pirate crew he’d joined had chosen for their encampment.  Something like a mud brick wall.  The only enclosure in the K’kuthrrup village, or town, hamlet, whatever you would call it, that had a roof overhead.  
On the far side, facing him, was a K’kuthrrup.  Close to three meters tall.  Bulging sensor cluster at the top of its head.  A huge patch of the stalks they extended converted to visual sensors.  All of them pointed at him.  
As his lungs huffed and heaved and struggled to draw in enough of the tenuous gases that passed for atmosphere on this planet, Rick wondered if this creature was the reason for the Bug Out.  The K’kuthrrup had not paid the humans scurrying amongst them, like squirrels in a forest, the slightest attention.  Except for their reaction when “Captain Jack,” their leader introduced himself to them, they’d not reacted to anything the crew had done.  Now, one of them was standing there.  Seemingly waiting for him.  Watching him.
Rick stood still.  Only his heart, beating in his chest, and his lungs, forcing him to take short gasps of air lest he pass out, and his legs, starting to tremble from the forced effort to run with a full backpack of samples and testing equipment, were the parts of his body still evidencing motion.  
Was this the reason for the bug-out?  The thought was just there, pushed into consideration by the astonishment he was feeling to find one of the natives of this planet in their encampment.  They had given only the barest of signs that they had noticed them after they and landed and disembarked.  
Rick took one deep breath and blew it out, trying to calm himself.  He reached for his waist to pull his PA free.  He thumbed his personal assistant to life.  The screen told him the CommNet signal was lost, and that there were no open networks.  
“That’s because they’ve grounded the aerostat and packed it in the SSTO before launch.”  There was a timer running since he’d received the call to grab his data and get to the landing site ASAP!  It had been twenty minutes since he started sprinting back to the encampment.  Six minutes after he’d bee strolling back from the K’kuthrrup sewage city taking samples before he got in range of the aerostat’s signal.  Figure another forty minutes to get to the landing site at the local north end of the village…?  
“I’ve got time.”  Rick nodded to himself.  He slapped his PA back on to his waist.  Not a lot of time, no.  But time.  His gear was against the far wall.  
Right next to the K’kuthrrup that was standing there.  Watching him.  
“Fine.”  Rick forced himself to ignore the tall, broccoli-looking alien and picked his way through the scattered equipment the crew had apparently decided to leave behind.  He knelt down next to his cot, the only one still set up and standing.  He pulled his locker out from underneath.  
They hadn’t tried to open it themselves.  Rick didn’t know that was a sign of some level of decency on their part, or an estimation of the value of the data he’d collected.  The whole point of coming to this world was to rob it of whatever data they could find and sell in Human Diasporic Space.  Maybe find a protein that would make people immortal.  Or a spice that would make crap taste like a banquet.  If you could get it to market before the big info-conglomerates that had the rights to explore this world could do so, you could make a killing.  
Rick put his thumb on the ID tab.  He leaned over to let it scan his eyes.  “Open Sesame,” he whispered, giving it his password and a sample of his voice to compare.  
The lid popped open.  He reached it to dig out the data blocks he stored there.  He felt something tickling his earlobe.  He reached up to smooth down his collar with he felt something, a cord from his backpack…?  Laying across his shoulder.  He craned his head to look.  
And found himself looking into a small, beady, alien eye.  
“JEEZ!”  Rick slapped it away.  He crab-walked backwards, his back pushing overturned crates and violently disassembled furniture out of the way.  
The K’kuthrrup pulled hits sensor stalk up into the air.  It hung there, like a image of someone using a bullwhip, curved like an S over Rick’s head.  In then retracted the stalk until its eye nestled back in its place amongst the others in its sensor cluster.  
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”  HIs heart was hammering once more.  The K’kuthrrup eyes stared back at him.  Their eyes had no lids, but they could convert to other sense organs, like miniature ears, or feathery looking taste/smell sensors.  Right now, though, it looked like a bunch of snails were peeking at him from a windblown field of grass.  
Rick took in something else now, too.  The K’kuthrrup wasn’t standing there.  It was leaning there.  Against the wall next to where his cot was.  And it’s tentacles, limbs that looked and acted like the trunks of elephants, were hanging limply by its sides.  K’kuthrrup would extrude them at need, withdrawing them into their bodies when they were done handling whatever they wanted to handle.  
“Are you…  Sick?”  And, was it something they had done?  Something harmless to them, but which left K’kuthrrup like this?  Rick imagined a forest of K’kuthrrup marching about.  Like Birnam Wood, only they were coming for him instead of Macbeth.  
Rick shook his head.  What mattered now was to get to the landing site.  Keeping one eye on the K’kuthrrup, he crawled back to his locker.  He dug out the three data blocks where he’d stored his work on potential food products and additives.  He shoved them into his empty pouches on his pants.  Crabbing backwards, he watched the K’kuthrrup until he felt safe enough to get to his feet.  
That’s when the K’kuthrrup extended a sensor stalk again.  Rick backed away as it came toward him…  Ten…  Fifteen…  Twenty meters.  
The little eye was pointed right at him.  Feathery chem-sensors opened around it.  They separated, two down, two to the sides.
“What the…  Hell…?”  It was a tiny figure.  A little person, with the eye forming the head and the four feathery strands, the limbs.  
He knew where the being was getting it from.  The day they’d landed.  “Captain Jack” had marched right up to the closest grove of K’kuthrrup after debarking from the SSTO.  He got within two meters of them.  Planted his feet.  Flung his arms out wide.
“Humans have come to meet you!”  
The echo of his shout reverberated off the narrow canyon walls that surrounded the K’kuthrrup town.  A rippling reaction ran through the K’kuthrrup.  A cloud of eyes exploded from each being’s sensor cluster.  A flurry of sensor stalks lashed about overhead in an orgy of grabbing, tangling, releasing and grabbing again.  A living netting above them.
That was the biggest reaction they ever got from them.  The only sign they were aware of our presence, Rick thought.  Until now.
Rick looked past the human stick-figure floating before him to the cluster of alien eyes staring at him.  Had this one been in that grove?  Had this image been transferred to all the others?  What was It…  He…  She…?  Trying to say by showing it to him now?
And the bigger question, did any of that matter with time running out?  
The K’kuthrrup stretched its image of a human even closer to him…  Then, made it turn and face the area of the enclosure to Rick’s right.  It swung the little person back toward him.  It moved forward again, then turned toward Rick’s right.  
It held the figure there.  Facing that way.  The dozens of other eyes in its sensor cluster stayed locked on him, watching.  
“What?!”  The eyes in the K’kuthrrup’s cluster flinched at his shout.  It was too late.  Maybe, when they’d landed.  When he still had romantic dreams about being a pirate-explorer…  He remembered Captain Jack’s admonishment to him. 
“We’re here to steal, Telemon.  Remember that.  Even if we’re taking what they think is trash, we’re keeping the money for ourselves.”  He added a sly wink as a period at the end.
And Captain Jack was warming up the SSTO for launch right now.  Rick’s body dragged itself another step toward the enclosure’s opening.  
The K’kuthrrup swung the stick-figure back toward him.  It pulled it backwards, as Rick had been moving.  Then It made take a deliberate turn…
That way.  Rick found himself facing the far wall of the enclosure, just like the little person the K’kuthrrup had formed.  Their sample collection.  Most in crates.  Some, like the gourds the K’kuthrrup liked to suck on, in big piles.  
“You…  Want something?”  Rick edged closer to the area.  He waved a hand to encompass it.  “Something…  Over here?”
The K’kuthrrup didn’t move.  The little person faced the area.  The K’kuthrrup stared at him.  
Damn!  Give me a clue or something…  Rick looked around.  Ignore the stuff in crates.  Assume K’kuthrrup couldn’t see inside them.  What did that leave?  Ore samples.  Cuttings from plants.  The gourds pulled from their “convenience stores” where they pulled them.  An open box of K’kuthrrup feces, actually edible and nutritious, Rick had done the tests himself.  
Rick looked back at the little pyramid of gourds.  Food.  He looked back over his shoulder at the K’kuthrrup.  He put a hand on the gourd on top of the pile, a big, juicy one with red and green stripes on its husk.  
“This?  You want this?”  
The K’kuthrrup made the little man retreat, then rush forward.    
“Then, here…”  He grabbed the gourd and tossed it at K’kuthrrup.  “Enjoy.”  
It landed with a mushy, “Thud!”  It rolled, bounced off the skirt of the K’kuthrrup’s trunk.  It stopped against the massive, root-like limb it used to pull itself along the ground.  
The K’kuthrrup made the little person shaped from its sensor stalk retreat, then go forward again.  
“You’re not in a position to be picky!”  Leave!  Leave!  Just Go!  He ignored his shouts inside his head.  There were dozens of varieties of gourds.  Maybe one was medicine.  Maybe one would cure the K’kuthrrup of what ailed it and made it come inside here, alone, apart from the others.  
“Ok!  Fine!”  
Rick grabbed the gourds two at a time.  He flung them at the alien.  He didn’t even aim.  Just kept tossing until at least one of each time was thrown at the creature.  Just kept tossing into the entire pile was scattered before it.  
Rick looked back at it.  The K’kuthrrup wasn’t holding up its tiny representation of a man any more.  It was poking the stalk into the pile of gourds before its skirt.  It reminded Rick of a dog sniffing at something.
“You found something you like?  Good!”  But as Rick watched, he could see another problem.  The extruded tentacles along its side began twitching and spasming, but didn’t seem to have the power to lift themselves up to do any work.  And its sensor stalks were too thin and weak to lift even the smallest gourd.  
“Shit…”  Rick cursed himself as he moved toward the K’kuthrrup, dancing around and over the scattered gourds.  
“Which one?  Which one is it?”  The sensor stalk, the little man now gone, was tapping one with green and yellow blotches on it.  “This?  This is it?”  
Rick grabbed it.  He shoved the other gourds out of the way and reached for the edge of the trunk’s skirt.  He’d seen K’kuthrrup feeding on them and knew where their feeding mouth was located.  
He held the edge of the skirt up.  The K’kuthrrup extended its mouth.  Rick’s winced at the sight.  It resembled else more than female genitalia.  Except where the “little man in the escape pod” was supposed to be, the K’kuthrrup had a wicked looking pointed tusk.  
Rick held the gourd while the K’kuthrrup brought its feeding tusk down against the gourd’s husk.  A weak tap.  Followed by a scratching sound as the tip tried to bore its way through.  
“Shit…!”  Rick let go of the skirt.  He pulled his utility tool from his belt and popped out the blade.  He stabbed the gourd and twisted.  Thick, yellow liquid, like glue, oozed out of the wound.  It smelled like cleaning fluid.  
“There!”  He shoved it under the skirt, jamming it in so it held the skirt up.  He spotted two more of the same variety.  He stabbed them both, twisted the blade, then pushed them in beside the first.  
“I’m done!  You hear me? That’s it!”  The K’kuthrrup continued to stare at him.  Rick could hear a sucking sound, like a baby at its mother’s breast.  
Rick turned and ran from the encampment.  He didn’t even bother to check the time.
He just reached the outer wall of the K’kuthrrup town when he heard the SSTO engine’s start.  He’d been shouting into his PA for the last hundred meters, trying to raise someone on board.  
A percussive blast, like a giant fist, punched him in the chest.  A burning wind slapped him in the face, fingers of sand and grit poking out his eyes.  He turned and huddled against the outside wall.  The taste of burnt metal and dirt filled his mouth.  
Once he cleared the crud from his eyes, he looked up.  The SSTO was the point of a high intensity torch, with a piss-poor weld of black cloud closing the rent it made in the sky.  
Rick slumped back.  He felt nothing as the SSTO rolled and arched into the blue-black sky above.  He’d start cursing later.
He sat there once the SSTO winked out.  He nodded.  He’d gone from pirate to castaway.  Oh-kay…  Just…  Fine.

Rick got to his feet and headed back toward the encampment.  He wondered what sort of roommate the K’kuthrrup would be.  

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Social Simulator Run 135 [Reboot]

Joel was struggling to enjoy the office’s holiday party, when Graciela made her unexpected approach.  
“Hey, boss…”  She struck a pose in front of him.  Hands on her hips.  Her proverbial “little black dress,” clinging in ways that would get him counseled in “Inappropriate staring” back at the office.  A wicked looking smile on her face.  “I made myself a promise that, one way or another, I was going to get you on the dance floor tonight.”  
“Uh…”  A plate of chicken skewers were still in his hands, not yet placed on the table before him.  He swallowed, noting that his glass of water, he was driving himself tonight after all, sitting there looking so far away.  “I, uh, don’t…”  
“Come on…!”  Graciela moved in, hooking her left arm through his right.  Using her own right hand to clamp on to his wrist.  
“No, no…  I just…”  He lifted the plate of chicken skewers to display them.  Tiara, the invoicing manager, suddenly appeared and plucked the plate from his grip.  From behind, someone…  Lexa from order processing, came in to take his hand from the back of his chair and pull it out of reach.  
“No, nothing…  I wanna see you shake some booty.”  
A panic attack swept through him.  His booty didn’t shake.  It was locked in place since becoming president of the computer club in High School.  Looking past Graciela and her hair, now flowing in glistening locks down her back instead of the pert little bun she kept it in at work, at the people on the dance floor, he knew for sure that what little booty he might possess would snap in to if he attempted to move it like that.  
“No, no…”  Using extreme delicacy, he loosed Graciela’s hold on his arm and extracted it.  He backed away before she could grab it again.  
Lexa moved back in when he turned to go around the table.  
Tiara moved in front of him when he looked toward the gap between the back wall, where he’d chosen to sit, and the greeting table by the entrance to the restaurant’s rental space.  
Graciela had her hands on her hips, tilted up to one side, and smiled in a way that told Joel she had anticipated his reaction and planned out a response.  It was that sort of forethought that one her the company’s “Outstanding Performance Award,” which Joel had come JUST to present to her.  
He looked back and forth, then back and forth again.  It was then he spotted the edge of the tablecloth and the dark space beneath it.  
Before he knew what he was doing, Joel dove to the floor and crawled under the table.  He was directly under its center before Lexa could pull up the edge of the cloth and say something to him.  
“No.”   Joel shook his head.  He couldn’t tell what she was saying from the loud thumping of the music threatening to destroy everyone’s eardrums.  He just kept shaking his head and saying, “No,” when he saw her mouth move.  
It took about ten minutes, including the time the three of them tried to move the table from over him, forcing him to scoot along to stay in place, but they eventually gave him and walked away.  It took a half hour more for Joel to get himself together enough to stop the simulation.  
“So, Charlie…  I, uh, hear you’re leaving the company.”  
Joel was standing in the bar area.  It was just outside the curtain partition to where the tables, the dance floor and the DJ’s equipment was set up.  He had made a beeline for it once he arrived at the party, and had been standing in once place, shifting his weight back and forth, waiting for when the awards were to be presented.
“Yeah…  Finally outa here.”  Charles Mason nodded his head.  He was smiling broadly, something he never did when bringing the records he’d gathered as a field agent to Joel’s unit.  He looked like he was sweating, though the bar area was making Joel tremble with the cold.  His eyes were red and watery.  “Bet you’re happy about that, huh?”
“I, uh…”  Joel turned his head to one side, then the other.  He had complained to Charlie and his supervisor about the sloppiness of his data, not being properly statused or formatted when he’d uploaded to the server, at the beginning of Charlie’s tenure.  But that had been months ago.  
“That’s the one thing you…”  He gestured with his drink toward Joel.  Joel stepped back as some of it sloshed out of the glass at him at the gesture.  “And I can both agree on, huh?  We’re both glad we don’t have to…   Fucking deal with each other, huh?”  A very maniacal laugh erupted from his lips.  
Joel swallowed.  Other field agents hanging out in the bar area moved in.  He had only wanted the work down right, he wanted to say.  But looking into Charlie’s eyes, seeing the other field agents waiting to hear how he would respond, and remembering one of them quip that “Charlie Mason” was one “n” away from being a psychopathic killer, Joel felt any such feedback would be useless.
Joel nodded, muttered something close to “Good Luck,” and squeezed through the clustered agents to return to the dinning and dancing area.  Graciela caught him within ten steps of the entrance, a good twenty meters from the nearest table.  
Joel didn’t doubt the accuracy of his simulations.  His job was to create them for the attorneys that were their clients.  Recreating accidents, crime scenes to show juries their client’s version of events.  They were designed to be believable.  Joel knew they were credible.  
What he was beginning to doubt was his ability to get out of something he knew would be embarrassing.  
“Hey, Joel, if you hurt your foot, why is that cast of yours coming off?”  Graciela gave him a smug look as she pointed toward the floor.  
“So…  With our current level of incoming orders…  I’d say we’re a good…  one hundred eighty-three orders or so away from making the projected goal.”  
“Really?”  John Hamerson, the owner of the company nodded in appreciation.  Joel had been told that Hamerson liked his work, but he still avoided talking to him if he could.  It made him too nervous.  “Well, we’ve closed three deals this week, that I think…”  
“Mr. Hamerson?”  
“Hello!”  Hamerson’s smile lit up as the both turned to find Graciela stading there.  “Graciela, right?” 
“Yes.  I was wondering if I could borrow my boss for a moment.  He promised me a dance tonight.”  
“Actually, I…”  
“Certainly!”  Hamerson made an expansive gesture as if offering Joel to be Graciela’s personal property.  He clapped Joel on the shoulder.  “It is a Party!”  
Joel waited in the bathroom.  Until a customer from the restaurant came up to him and said, “You look you could be someone special…”  
Walking down the street.  Joel thought he’d just circle the party until the presentation.  Until it started to rain…
“Maybe this will tell you ‘No’ means ‘No!’”  Joel pulled out the gun he’d added to the simulation.  
People screamed.  Tables overturned.  Graciela stood there, her avatar’s face displaying the most realistic look of horror Joel could imagine.  She’d actually written the algorithm that created it, he remembered.  
He ought to record his own expression to get the perfect representation of shame.  
[Delete Simulation Run]
[Delete Database]
[Empty Trash]
[Initialize Drive]
Joel sat in a chair by the table next to the wall.  The curtains covering the walls were, in reality, a deep green and not the bright red in his simulations.  They must have changed the decor from the images he’d downloaded.  
He wasn’t ready for this.  His idea of simulating what was for him an awkward social situation to figure out how to handle it hadn’t worked.  Or…  Maybe it had.  In the sense that situations like this maybe just needed to be experienced.  
“Hey, Joel…”  
He looked up to find Graciela standing there.  He took a breath.  His simulations had not don’t justice to her proficiency at wearing her little black dress.  Tiara was standing to her left.  And Rosa to her right.  It turned out that Lexa had given her notice that morning.  She had not told anyone nor posted anything about it online before announcing it.  
“Hey, Graciela.”
“I made a promise to myself that, one way or the other, you and I are gonna…”  
“Dance?  Sure.”  
Joel pushed his chair back and stood up.  His empty plate and glass were already pushed well to the center.
When he turned back, he found Graciela was giving him an open mouth stare. Tiara and Rosa were giving each other wide-eyed looks that would be filed under “Extremely Startled” in his Reactions folder on his computer.  
“Uh…  Ok.”  Graciela recovered quickly, her mouth transforming in a toothy, ear to ear smile.  
“Just know…”  Right then the DJ started up another set.  A loud, techno-thumping number that made the curtains shiver with anticipation.  
“Just…  Know…”  Joel couldn’t even hear his own shouts into Graciela’s face.  “There’s an eight…  Percent chance…  I fall and pull you down to the floor…  With me.”  
“You want to dance to, ‘Get Down with Me?’”  Joel had to read her lips to figure out what she said.  

“Never mind.”  He nodded toward the dance floor.  She took his arm and let him lead them out.  At least he knew that falling down wasn’t the worst thing that could happen.