Do you like old time television? How much?


by Joey Mitchell Comeau © 2001

There was a loud thump. A woman at a table near ours let out a gasp, and I glanced up to see a football sized asteroid floating away from the window. It was floating end over end away from us. My wife hadn't looked up. She was still concentrating on using the Pari Kelmpers. Her fingers were pushed into the translucent spirals, and the ends were flailing around like she had crazy eels biting her fingertips. Her brow was furrowed in concentration.

If that asteroid had been going fast enough, it would have cut a hole right throught that window, killing everyone in the room. I pushed my chair back and stood up. My wife didn't look, she was still trying to figure out the alien utensil. I figured out the Kelmpers a couple of years ago, when I was first studying science journalism at the university of Masgar. I'd had some damn high hopes of being the best. And like all pipe dreams, my hopes faded with time.

Kelmpers were developed on Masgar. They're basically extensible gloves, and are used for reaching inside various fruits and extracting the meat. The fruits on Masgar have a highly corrosive shell, and the Kelmpers help you to get inside. I wrote a paper on their potential use in the medical field. It was just another unpublished article sitting on my hard drive.

My wife was learning to use them so she could eat at the Masgarian restaurant on the deck above, without being embarrassed. My wife spent a considerable ammount of time looking silly around me so that she wouldn't look silly to other people. But that's the point, I guess.

There was a very small crack in the glass, and leaning close I could hear the sound of air rushing through it. Slowly, as I watched, it closed itself; the glass becoming complete and perfect again. I had once written a paper on the small plastic robots that made such things possible. Again; rejected. Unpublished.

I ran my hand over the warm surface, and watched the rock slowly spinning away from us. Off in the distance behind it, something glittered. I tapped the window twice, and a computer display appeared on its surface. I typed instructions into the computer, showing it the object with my finger.

The computer enhanced the glittering object, and made it larger. It was a television, floating in a small crowd of asteroids, very slowly spinning. It was an old wood-panel floor model, and the rabbit ears were floating a few feet away. It appeared to be turned on, its face brilliantly lit. I memorized the coordinates, and turned back to face the restaurant.

My heart was racing. Why would there be such an old relic floating in an asteroid field so far from earth? How could it be turned on with no visible power source? What newsfeed should I sell the print rights to? The prospect of an interesting story left me breathless.

My wife looked up as I came back to the table. She lifted her hand to show me her control over the Kelmpers, and demolished a baked potato by way of demonstration. The fingers of the alien untensil slid right through the potato and sent bits of it flying in short arcs.

"Dammit," she said, looking at the bits of potato on the table. I took my jacket from the back of my seat and slid it on. I flicked a piece of potato off the shoulder. "Why are these things so damned sensitive?" she asked.

I shrugged. "I have to head upstairs." I told her, "I'm sorry. We'll do this again tomorrow night?" There was no sense in telling her what was going on. She didn't do anything but talk badly about my work, anyway. She was always saying I should become an engineer. She was always telling me I should make a difference.

"Harry, I have Yoga classes tomorrow night." She said, making a big deal out of pouting. I shrugged my shoulders again and started walking towards the elevator. Over my shoulder I said, "We'll talk about it tonight."

I took the elevator up to our ship's engineering quarters. I found Carl in the common room, reading a book. He smiled when he saw me, and held the book up for me to read the title. I couldn't, it was a mess of scibbles and lights.

"It's in Masgarian," he said, "I'm learning how to read it."

Carl was like that. He was always reading books to learn things that have nothing to do with his job. He was always picking up new languages or skills. It made him useful.

"You up for a bit of a mystery?" I said.

His face lit up. "You bet I am." he replied, "but shouldn't we bring along the lead reporter?"

I steeled my jaw. "No." I said, "This is my story."

Within an hour we'd secured permission to go and study the "asteroid field" for an article Carl was helping me write. This is the story we told the man on duty. There was no mention of televisions. The engineering department lent us use of a shuttle bubble, and we climbed inside the airlock. After a few warnings about some recent problems with the shuttle we were using, we were left alone. It was a small room with a large door at each end. The one we came through was marked "inside," and the other was maked "outside."

In the centre of the room was a small plaform with two seats on it. The seats had straps attached to them, and each had a control panel on the arm rest. We sat in the chairs provided, and a bubble formed around us. Carl laughed nervously, and looked over at me.

"You ever been in one of these?" he said. Then they opened the airlock door and we popped out into space.

After the initial acceleration we went into zero gravity. Up was all over the place as we spun. I turned the bubble to face the coordinates and started to move. I turned on my video camera, and it began to hover around us, filming.

"You say you saw a TV," said Carl, laughing, "That's bizarre."

"I saw it with my own eyes." I said, "The computer even told me its mass. It's really out there. You and I are going to find out why, and I'm gonna write an article about it." I checked the videocamera to make sure it was working fine. I pressed a small red button marked test, and it ejected a small picture.

"Maybe someone dumped it out here." he said. I was quiet.

When we got to the small asteroid cluster, we couldn't find the TV. We floated around for a while, checking out all the angles. But the sensors on the bubble weren't designed for searching through asteroid fields. The bubbles were designed to ferry people back and forth between ships.

Every once in a while, a small asteroid would float into us, making a small indent in the bubble. The bubble popped back into shape, sending it bouncing away. Every time it happened, it made a 'thump' sound, and Carl jumped. After the third one, he wanted to go back to the ship.

"You were seeing things." He told me. I was begining to doubt myself. There was definately nothing out there. And there are a dozen other things wrong with what I saw, not the least of which was, how would the TV be turned on if it was floating in space? But the computer gave me its mass. Maybe I am losing my mind, I thought. Maybe the computer was measuring an asteroid. I feared that I was letting my need for a good story cloud my logic.

Carl turned the bubble around to point at the ship, and we began to move again. As the ship loomed larger, I reflected that I should spend less time searching for something to write about, and more time at home sleeping next to my wife. She was getting irritated at how often I was gone, I thought. But didn't she know what it meant to be a writer and have nothing to write about? All the good stories were stolen by the ship's offical Journalist. No, she didn't understand, but I'd have a story. I would.

Directly in front of us, a small object was getting bigger. It didn't register in my head until it had thumped into us that it was an alarm clock. It pushed into the clear bubble, black and smooth and plastic; its red digital face flashing 6:45, the alarm wailing in our ears. And then it was gone, spinning away, trailing its cord. We watched it float off, in stunned silence.

Out the window, the night was suddenly filled with bedside lamps, TVs and chairs. There was a large water bed looming behind us, gaining. A bathroom sink approached fast from our right. Carl pushed a few buttons on his pad, and the bubble began to pick up speed. He opened his mouth to say something, and then we saw the apartment building.

Thirteen stories by my count. It was moving at twice the speed of our home ship, coming down from above. Carl grabbed the radio and tried to get contact the ship. There was no response. I grabbed the video camera and pointed it at the ship.

"Stop the bubble." I said.

"The radio's not working. We have to get there and tell them what's happening." Carl said.

I shook my head, careful not to move the camera. "We'll never get there before that thing hits. I need to get this on film. This footage is amazing. Look at that. Just look!"

Carl muttered something under his breath, and opened up a panel on the side of his seat. "I'm going to try to get the radio to work." He said, "Maybe we can send out a distress call."

But it was too late. The apartment building touched the top of the ship and didn't stop. It cut through the metal hull as though through butter. I had it all on film - the brownstone building tearing into the smooth chrome of our ship.

It was comepletely quiet in the bubble, as Carl and I watched the building coming to a halt, half sticking out of the ship. The pieces of furniture had formed long lines, leading to the doors on the roof of the apartment building, and were entering it one by one. The video camera would not zoom in as far as I wanted it to, and my fingers slipped off the controls, wet with sweat.

Beside me I heard a grunt of satisfaction and I looked over to see Carl sitting up, a smile on his face.

"Radio works." he said. Behind him something strange was looming. "We should be able to send out a distress call to any ships in the area." My mind struggled to comprehend the object behind him, and our situation.

"Shouldn't we radio the ship, and let them know what's going on out here?" I asked, and Carl lookd at me as though I were a moron.

Then Carl screamed. I ducked sharply, and a large sofa slammed into the side of the bubble. The bubble caved in, knocking Carl in the side of the head. I hit the emergency distress button, and pushed on the sofa as hard as I could. The sofa bounced away from the bubble, but Carl didn't sit back up. There was no blood. I couldn't tell if he was breathing or not.

I grabbed my video camera and pointed it at the fleeing sofa. I followed the sofa as it approached the line of furniture. Then I saw the second building. It was flying towards the ship from the opposite direction. It was twice as big as the first, and moving fast. I reached out to grab the microphone.

"Come in." I said. "This is the shuttle bubble, there is a second craft approaching you. You have to move." but there was no answer. I tried seting the computer to cycle through the frequencies, but there was still no response. All I could do was watch through the video camera as the second building tore through the bottom of the ship. Nobody could have survived that impact. The footage was amazing.

I thought suddenly of my wife, brow furrowed, sitting across from me, trying to figure out how to use the Kelmpers. She looked up and saw me smiling at her. She smiled back.

The computer showed me how to hook the video camera into its display module. I hooked it up, and watched my footage on the inside of the bubble's surface. The camera work was a little shaky, but that's because I didn't switch it to manual mode. The camera was trying to move of its own will.

Carl looked scared on the screen. There was sweat on his brow. "The radio's not working. We have to get there and tell them what's happening." Carl said. He was only half in the shot, the main focus being the apartment building.

"We'll never get there before that thing hits. I need to get this on film. This footage is amazing. Look at that. Just look!" Carl muttered something under his breath, and there was the sound of a panel opening. I pushed a button and stopped the playback.

"Computer," I said, "can you tell me what Carl said?"

The scene rewound and played again.

"The radio's not working. We have to get there and tell them what's happening." Carl said. There was a waver in his voice I hadn't heard before. Was it fear?

"We'll never get there before that thing hits. I need to get this on film. This footage is amazing." I said, "Look at that. Just look!"

Carl stared at me for a brief moment, and opened the panel. "The radio tower is on that deck." he muttered, and a lump formed in my throat. I switched the playback off. Outside the bubble there were three buildings sticking out of my ship. It was slowly spinning.

There had been no time, after the first building hit. There was nothing I could have done to warn them. The radio was out. I kept telling myself that as I began to pilot the bubble towards the silent, mutilated ship.

Within five minutes I was floating beneath the ship. I had the computer on the bubble scan the ship for life forms. There were two, both inside the airlock closest to my bubble. As my bubble approached the lock, external sensors detected my approach and opened the airlock. I would later find out that the inside sensors had been damaged, and they were trapped.

A bubble popped out of the lock, with two figures in it. I recognized my wife instantly, but it took me a moment to realize the other figure was Markov, the ship's lead reporter. Fear and guilt melted away with all other recognizable emotions. I reached my hand out to activate the radio, and my wife reached her hand out to rest on his leg.

They hadn't noticed me, yet. I pushed the button to activate the radio.

"Are you the only survivors?" I asked. They both jumped, and turned towards me. Markov pushed a button on his control panel. "No." he said. "Almost everyone else got away in time. The aliens provided them with safe teleportation to their homeworld."

My mouth ran dry. First Contact. But why hadn't they been teleported? "These apartment buildings are alien ships?" I asked.

Markov and my wife laughed. Their laugher grated on me. My wife's was muffled, Markov's was guffawing.

"No." he said. "But you'll be able to read all about it when I'm done writing the story."

I ignored his implication. He had recognized me. "Why weren't you teleported to safety?" I asked.

"We were already in the airlock." My wife said, and Markov cut her off. I could see his body leaning forward to the console of his bubble.

"I was just showing her the bubbles." he said.

I'd heard enough. "How do I contact the aliens?" I asked.

"You can't." he said. "Just be patient, there's another ship on its way out here to supervise the mating. They'll pick us up."

"The mating?" I asked, looking up at the crumbling brownstone building. It was still moving into the ship, but slowly, a few feet at a time. A window disappeared while I watched.

"You can read about it tomorrow." he said.

"Let's go look at the other side," my wife whispered. Her voice came through the radio crisp and clear. I could see Markov's head nod yes. "We'll be back in a little while." he said.

"Sure." I said, looking up to the building again. First Contact meant easy pickings for a while. The lead reporters couldn't handle every facet of an entire new culture and biology. I might even be able to make a name for myself. I turned the radio off, and waited. My wife floated away with another man.

"I'll be a reporter again," I said to myself, fighting a lump in my throat. "There will be other women."

Beside me, Carl was silent.

x x x

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