MOONJACK! Act One – Part 2

Commander Braun came to his decision.

“All right,” he sighed. “We have tractor beams of our own. Bring them in and set them down on launch pad ten. But don’t tell them what we’re doing. We don’t want the hostiles intercepting the signal and finding out what we’re up to before we’re done.”

“Aye, sir,” said Maroon, fingers at the ready on both the defence screen and tractor beam controls.

“Then I want all power back to the defence screens as soon as they’re through.”

“Aye, sir!”

“All available power,” Braun added. Then hurried to the weapons rack to grab a sidearm that looked like a staple gun with coloured lights down the front. Ultimately, even when doing the right thing, it was best to be armed, just in case. “Henna, Verdigris, Cardinal, with me. And, ah, we’d best have a couple of security guards. You and you.”

He pointed to the two men in purple-sleeved uniforms manning the doorway. Then he was charging out into the corridor. His small party of chosen personnel trailed after him. Enough of a squad to make him feel safe, but not so many that he’d look to any of the crew like he was secretly bricking it about what might be waiting for them.

***

This will never work.”

Course it will. Trust me.”

Hmm,” said Mr Ferret. “I already did. That’s what got me into this ridiculous get-up.” He flapped his over-voluminous sleeves. “I feel like a right charlie.”

Knucks stood back to admire the costume. “Relax. You look more like a wally.”

That’s not helpful.” Ferret narrowed his good eye so tightly he broke a sweat. Having a patch over one eye meant you had to put twice the effort into a lot of your facial expressions. “I’m supposed to look like an alien.”

His partner in crime fixed him with a an expression that was not so much deadpan as eye-level grill. “Quit your whining, will you? I’ve done my research.” He smiled the disarming smile that always put Ferret more on his guard. “These people have been out of circulation for so long, they don’t have a clue about the real universe. These people wouldn’t know an alien if it came up to them and slapped them in the face with a hitherto unheard-of appendage.”

Hitherto? You’ve been at the crosswords again, haven’t you?” remarked Ferret. Knucks was always trying to improve his vocab and break free from the stereotype suggested by what he liked to call his thuggish good looks.

Wiki, as it happens. But not for verbiage. Ordinarily I’d prefer to case the objective in situ, but it’s just not doable when the situ is constantly on the move. Luckily for us, there’s a lot of information on this moon if you know where to look.”

Ferret gave a demi-frown. “This moon? I thought it was the Moon.”

Knucks was concentrating, kneeling beside the escape capsule and carefully applying the adhesive stencil. “Nah. It’s a replica. It’s a long story, I won’t bore you with the details. All you need to know is it was blown out of orbit centuries ago and has been meandering about the cosmos in its own little hyperstitial vortex ever since. Pass me the silver will you?”

At one end of the launch bay there was a workbench, its surface cluttered with tools and a number of spray cans. Ferret shuffled over and grabbed the silver. He considered tossing it to his colleague, but decided instead to walk over and plonk it in his hand. He needed the practice moving around in this outfit.

Thanks.” Knucks gave the can a hearty rattle. “Anyway, the interface between our universe and the hyperstitial vortex along which they’re hurtling generates a warped reality. A Reality Suspension Infarction, it’s called. Or Vorpal Tunnel Syndrome.”

Vorpal?” Ferret sensed an impending science bit and frowned in readiness. Knucks was no boffin, but further to his self-improvement efforts he enjoyed baffling his fellow criminals with his newfound knowledge whenever the opportunity arose. Despite the feeling he was likely to regret it, Ferret asked, “How does that work?”

The spray can issued a prolonged hiss as Knucks blasted the stencil with silver. When he was done, he stood and checked his jacket to make sure no paint had dared speckle the leather. “Frankly, I’m not a hundred percent sure.” Ferret placed a ‘phew’ on standby. But Knucks was far from done. “The explosion that blew their moon out of orbit, it opened up some kind of rift between our universe and hyperstitial space. So their moon travels along that tear, where the normal laws of physics – a bit like you after a couple of sherry spritzers – don’t function too well.”

Ha ha.” It wasn’t Ferret’s fault he couldn’t hold his drink. It was his slight frame. “It all sounds a tad far-fetched.”

Knucks laughed. “That’s the point. Warped reality, laws of physics suspended. It’s bound to stretch credibility, right? I expect it’s how there are even people still alive on that base. Remember, they were blown out of orbit centuries ago, like I said. They should have all snuffed it long before now. Some sort of weird relativistic effect going on, I shouldn’t wonder.”

That made some kind of sense, at least. Ferret was struck by another sudden concern though: that these same relativistic effects didn’t assault his complexion with a lot of wrinkles. Temporal anomalies were dangerous things and there were scant few creams capable of combatting their effects.

Anyway,” Knucks reassured – and winded him slightly – with a hefty pat on the back, “situations are like women. You don’t need to know how they work to take advantage of them. All you have to do is show up and do your thing.”

Ferret fidgeted in his outfit. It was hanging far too loosely on his shoulders and now the tall collar had been thrown out of alignment by Knucks’ reassurance. “Huh. My thing might not be at full effectiveness in this stupid fancy dress.”

It’s very you.” Knucks cracked a grin. “But listen, because of the RSI these people will only have met bizarre aliens. The more bizarre-o the better. But it could’ve been worse. We could’ve furnished you with some of those hitherto unheard-of appendages.

I suppose.” Ferret turned away from Knucks. They had taken care to make him still look humanoid, as the surest means of winning their trust. And the more they trusted him, the more deeply they would feel the betrayal and the more they would trust the cavalry when they came to the rescue. And so on. “Well, at least you can do me up at the back.”

Sure.”

***

“I don’t like this, Commander,” said Cardinal. “It stinks. It stinks like a roo’s dunny.”

Braun duly noted Cardinal’s opinion. Whereas Tommy Verdigris claimed Italian ancestry while actually being about as Italian as a pork pie, Alan ‘Crocodile’ Cardinal would have worn a bush hat strung with corks if uniform regulations permitted. The stereotypical notion of Australians painted them all as descended from exiled convicts, and Braun could never help thinking that if they were all like Cardinal he’d have shipped them to the other side of the world too. Even so, the man had a point on this occasion and tensions were high as the team waited in the hangar.

Launch pad ten had already descended, bringing the alien vessel with it, by the time they had arrived. Once the docking bay had re-pressurised they had all filed in to stand before the craft. The craft, for its part, sat there on the deck not doing anything except amping up the suspense.

Braun had to hope they hadn’t just brought a Trojan horse into the base.

It didn’t look like a horse. In terms of resembling anything Terran it wasn’t remotely equine. It wasn’t even porcine, bovine or piscine, despite what he had thought earlier about its comparative minnowness next to the shark-like warship. It was, unexcitingly, wedge-shaped, like an arrowhead. Bronze-hulled, with a single black visor cut across the facing slope and a string of silver lettering along the side. From certain angles it looked like it said ESCAPE POD, but that was almost certainly an optical illusion generated by the alien font the stenciller had chosen.

Finally, the ship appeared to notice it had an audience. It hissed at them.

Braun and his men tensed. Tommy and the security guards levelled their weapons. Cardinal planted his hands on his hips in an effort to look butch. Henna grasped Braun’s arm and nestled against him. Gently he guided her around to the other side where she was less likely to spoil his aim.

The ‘pod’ hissed again and popped its visor. Light and misty vapour spilled from the interior. It looked cramped, perhaps enough room in there for Braun, Henna and two others. Which was not a picture Braun wanted to think about, unless the other two were Sandy Beige maybe and Holly Saffron from Maintenance. But actually, he thought with a sidelong glance, he’d better not retain that image for long if he wanted to avoid incurring his medical officer’s wrath.

Then it was eyes – and thoughts – front again as the ship’s occupant stepped from the illuminated fog to stand on the hull like he was walking out on stage.

It was an apposite simile. If the alien that emerged had a Terran equivalent, it was a piratical swan who had sought fame as a 1970s glam-rock star. Braun was an age looking the figure up and down because, frankly, it was a long and disturbing journey.

From the ground, up: shiny gold boots mounted on platforms that would have served just as well in a railway station; distressingly constricting silver trousers that identified the alien’s gender as male; copper-coloured blouse with silvery frills and sleeves so capacious they may have been fashioned from a pair of circus tents; a shimmery gold cloak that would have hung to floor level if not for the platforms; all topped off with a headdress of white feathers that rose in a graceful S to a swan-like head that peered down at them with beady black eyes. This avian crown seemed so real and alive, it was easy to overlook the pale, weaselly face that gazed out from beneath it. This second, surprisingly human face was lent a faintly fearsome cast by the addition of an eyepatch, but was brightened by a psychedelic combination of rouge and – around the one visible eye – eyeshadow that appeared to be asking them to reconsider all the gender-related evidence put forward by the trousers.

Even so, Braun was left wondering whether the being would speak with its heavily painted lips or by parting the swan’s bill to communicate in hisses. Then he recalled the voice they had heard via the radio communication and looked to the lower, human face for movement.

After what seemed like a deliberately timed dramatic pause, the being opened its mouth.

With a single eyebrow arched in surprise, its first words were, “How did you all get to be so tiny?”

[To Be Continued…]

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1 Comment

  1. […] One, Middle: 3) Here. Moonbase Kappa greets the strange alien […]


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