Small Realities

Inside the mind of Lance Schonberg

Turn the World Around, Part 2

Chapter 2

“–right.  Um, yeah.  Not what I was expecting.”  No transition, no warning.  Also no October breeze, no lapping waves, and no horde of excited people about to run up behind me. Nothing.  I stood in a small pink room with the three aliens.  Shalash.  I needed to start thinking the name.

Mouth pressed flat, the middle alien cocked its head to the left.  “You are not claustrophobic?”

I shook my head.  “The room’s not that small.”

“You find the colour distressing?”

“No.  Odd, maybe, but not distressing.”

My eyes roamed the walls of the tiny room.  Soft light came from the ceiling itself, but I couldn’t see anything like a control panel or a man in a red jumpsuit.  How could I help thinking about Star Trek when I’d just been beamed up?  “How –”

“It is controlled from elsewhere.”

I looked around again.  The room stayed small and pink.

It nodded.  “We are aboard our battleship, yes.”  Should think of it as a he?  It seemed dangerous to assign genders or anything else yet.  My mind grabbed the word ‘battleship’ and I hoped it would turn out to be something missing in translation.  Except he, or it, didn’t seem to need translation.  The Shalash leader spoke English.  That scared me a bit and at the same time made the experience a little surreal.

I turned my body a little to follow it, or him, through the door and the other two Shalash fell into step behind me.  The walking pace had to be a courtesy to my short legs since I didn’t have any trouble keeping up and not having to hurry gave me a chance to look around as we walked a winding path.  A few open doors flashed by, tantalizing glimpses into alien rooms, most with one or more Shalash inside.  None worked at anything identifiable in those fleeting glimpses and only a few bothered to look up as we passed, as if a human wandering around was normal.

Was there a point in trying to keep track of turns through the tight corridors?  Well, not that tight, really.  I could easily have walked beside someone else my size without either of us scraping the walls, but the space still made me thankful I wasn’t claustrophobic.  No one spoke but my brain churned too much to stay quiet.  I cleared my throat.  “The, um, walls.  They’re very pink.”

It, he didn’t look at me.  I settled on the masculine pronoun to clear my own confusion, good until proven otherwise.  “They are.  The designers felt something neutral to be appropriate.  My preference would be for a different neutral, but I was not consulted.”  His head bobbed to one side.  A shrug, maybe?  “I understand every ship in the class is a slightly different interior shade.”

“Of pink.”

“Of pink.  Unfortunate, but true.”

“And you obviously haven’t had time to repaint anything.”

“Too much work to be done.”

“No battle ready ship ever passed inspection.”  Sometimes I really wished I could keep thoughts to myself.  I didn’t mean for the words to be part of our conversation, but maybe battleship hadn’t been a mistranslation.

We stopped.  Well, he stopped and I managed not to trip over him.  He looked down at me, a strangely human frown pulling its eyebrows together.  “I do not understand the statement.”

Next time I’d bite my tongue.  Really, I would.  “Umm.  Old human military saying.”  I think.  At least, I’d read it somewhere.  “‘No battle-ready ship ever passed inspection.  No inspection-ready ship is ever prepared for battle.’  You’re unlikely to be polished and ready for a fight at the same time.”

He stayed locked his eyes on mine for several seconds.  “Interesting, and possibly applicable.”  Using his entire arm, he pointed at the doorway we’d stopped beside.  “A more comfortable place for discussion.”

The seat facing the doorway held another Shalash who stood as we stepped into the room.  My brain tried to label this one female, but without the obvious human anatomical differences, it was hard to decide why.  The two who hadn’t spoken stayed outside the door and I finally clued in.  I’d had a security escort, not part of the official first contact or whatever conversation I was about to have, but present to protect everyone else from the potentially dangerous alien.

My speaking escort gestured to one unoccupied chair and moved to stand behind the other.  “Introductions are due.  I am Kanid sen Razush, Captain of this vessel, the Shalan Triumphant.”

I tried to sit.  Comfortable, meaning a chair too tall and skinny for my human-sized ass.  I knew I carried thirty pounds more than the supposed ideal for my height, but the chair squeezed those extra pounds and all the wiggling I wanted to do didn’t make much difference.  At least it was beige, along with its two mates and the small, triangular table, but my feet didn’t touch the floor.  Deck.

The other Shalash pressed her hands together, one on top of the other, and nodded.  “I am Anissal wektun Mahyul.  Your language inadequately renders my title as Ambassador.”

Very ambassadorial.  “Um.”  Then again, I felt the inadequacy of my command of English at that moment, and of my current career.  “I’m Ian Cotta, Data Analyst.”

They looked at each other, then back at me, and the ambassador clichéd.  “We have come to Earth in search of peace.”

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