by Miriam English

"Aghh! Not another of those stupid soap-operas! Which one is it? Malice? Dysentery? No Don't tell me -- I don't want to know! What I do want to know is..."

His voice trailed off as she raised her hand to hold off the interruption while on the screen, a silver-haired, obviously-wealthy man backs in apprehension from the young, glamorous brunette in the red dress with the hand grenade...

With great effort he tore his eyes from the TV and snarled with anger. He hated it when that useless garbage caught his eyes and mesmerised him. "For chrissakes Lea! Turn that shit off!"

She didn't even take her eyes off the screen.

Try to behave Stuart. I'll talk with you in a minute during the ads." Her most patronising (matronising?) voice.

He throttled back his anger.

He considered turning his back to the TV and putting his fingers in his ears to avoid getting sucked in again, but rejected it because it felt degrading. And besides, how would he know when the ad-break came on? But he dared not watch the TV. That would risk being hypnotised again by that drivel with no guarantee that he would be able to break away from it during the ads anyway.

So with a snort of disgust he turned on his heel and strode out of her room, along the upward curving corridor around the space ship's rim and up the ladder to the non-rotating hub.

He floated into the control room and his anger evaporated.

He loved this dim little room with its large electronic telescope screens. From here he could control every aspect of the ship: he could deploy more solar sail and move out toward Mars' orbit, or fold some sail and drop back towards the sun. But normally the computers balanced the solar wind pushing the sail and the sun's gravity pulling the craft so that it hung motionless relative to the sun, between Earth's and Mars' orbits.

Here in this little room, the nerve center of a 200 meter disk suspended by carbon fibre threads from several square kilometers of titanium foil sail, he watched and listened to the universe.

Suddenly Lea's voice intruded through the intercom. "OK, while the ads are on, what did you want to know?" With background commentary on whites whiter than white.

He recollected. "How do I find the visiting ship schedules?" He resented having to ask.


God she was irritating sometimes. "Just tell me Lea."

"The next ship is in six and a half weeks time then nothing more for another three months followed by four in the space of a week. It's in LOG/schedule/upcoming/visitors. Why?"

"We have a visitor approaching from sunside."

"Oh. Who is it?"

"No idea. They're transmitting something but the sun's interfering badly with it of course."

"When'll they get here?"

He looked down to a computer display, "Only a few minutes."

"OK. See ya when they dock" and she cut the connection.

Probably gone back to watching that stupid serial, he thought. What was it? General Hostility? As The Stomach Turns? Lives Of Our Daze? Peanut Place? The Hung And The Dressless? He smiled savagely. Let her pollute he mind; he had more important things for his. His life's work: compiling a 3D Atlas of the local 3 billion cubic light years. Except that now it was being interrupted by this unexpected visitor.

He looked at the rightmost, upper, computer screen. The visitor was close enough for communication now -- and yes, there was the dialog between the visitor's computers and the ones here.

Wondering who would be way out here, he turned the telescopes to see them and was astounded.

He touched the intercom plate. "Lea look at this!" and patched the telescope picture through to her TV.

A scream from the intercom, "Put my picture back NOW!!" She sounded dangerous.

Stuart hastily shrank the image and put it in the corner of her revolting grope opera.

"This is our visitor's ship, Lea."

"I don't care if it is Doctor Who's ship! Don't interrupt my..." She looked at the picture of the approaching ship. "I'm on my way."

It wasn't like any normal spaceship. It looked very alien. Bits looked like they were growing off the main mass of the thing, and the whole disordered array of shapes was festooned with what looked like cobwebs but must have been strands an inch thick.

"Maybe the ship is inside all that garbage," she suggested. They had both climbed inside their transparent crash couches in the control room.

"No, look." He had set one of the computers to show the interior of the visitor using the microwave antennas: there appeared to be no metal on, or in, the visitor at all.

Lea and Stuart looked at each other.

She pressed the send button. "Hello, this is Sky Map Inc. Deep Space Telescope. Please identify yourselves."

A slight pause then an eager young girl's voice responded with "Hi Sky Map! I'm an alien, but just call me Linda. I've just had an equipment failure that you might be able to help me with. See you in a minute. Docking has started."

There was the gentle jar of the two ships docking, and Lea and Stuart squirmed out of their crash couches.

He frowned. "What do you suppose she meant by 'I'm an alien'?"

The docking bay door slid open, Lea looked at the creature, and turned to Stuart who was just staring with his mouth open. "I think she meant alien as in 'not from Earth' Stuart." Her most sarcastic voice.

The creature looked somehow like Fungus the Bogeyman -- green and scaley, with three legs, bulbous eyes on stalks, two antennae, and a trumpet nose. An arm with tentacles instead of fingers lifted as she enthusiastically exclaimed, "Hi guys! I realise this must be a bit of a shock to you -- first alien contact and all -- but my television went on the blink in the middle of the latest episode of Dallas, and I was wondering if either of you know if J.R. found out about the blackmail plot, and what did Sue-Ellen do?"

Lea let out a little squeal of delight, and ignoring Linda's green, slimy warts, she pushed herself forward, floated over to her and touched her on the forearm. "You'll never guess what happened, dear. Penelope managed to get a hand grenade, and..." she broke off abruptly as a keening, agonised cry ripped through the air.

She waved a hand in his direction and said to Linda, "Oh don't pay any attention to him."

copyright ©1986 by Miriam English (14th Nov 86)