A couple of friends and I have been doing weekly writing prompt challenges as a way to get us writing, and push us outside of our comfort zones. We aren’t required to share but I have decided to. This post is late as I have been without internet but this was the prompt for week Jan 21-Jan 28.
Mine clocked in at r 3529 words. O.O
Week 2: “I need to speak to a human,” he demanded.
It was the 57th time Talus crew hauled in a piece of scrap from Earth that he decided enough was enough. The first time it had happened after he took over as head of clean up crew 6 Talu and his team had been curious, excited even. They brought the bit of extraterrestrial metal back home with them to show off; it was only after handing the large, twisted thing over to his own supervisor that Talu learned there was nothing to get worked up over. Scrap from the Earthings was common as sand and useless besides; their metals were fragile, their plastics toxic. It was bad enough, his supervisor grumbled, crews had to work round the clock to block out the noise pollution coming from that direction, but they insisted on tossing out actual garbage as well. Talu had been devastated of course. It was their job to keep the space around the planet Hayu clear and litter free for the safety of the shuttles bustling to and from the planets 4 satellite cities but it was every crews secret wish to find something unique out there. Something alien or rare. Instead they usually busied themselves with small bits of rock and trash from their inconsiderate neighbor.
This was the final insult. This bunch of plastic was not like all of the others Talu had collected over his 3 years on this job, no this one was like a plastic bomb. It had a hard shell but when broken open, as it did once it hit a small rock just outside of his crews clean up zone, it spewed thousands of pieces if earthling refuse into the space above Hayu. The clean up effort had taken an entire days work and involved 3 other crews from different sectors. Sometime during their efforts another such bomb came into their range and was collected without incident. After a while it became clear that the items inside the plastic casing must be garbage, even to the earthlings. Plastic foil that seemed to show labels for food stuffs, pages of plastic paper with more pictures of earth goods, even plastic bundles that seemed to have been used as infant napkins, all littering the space above Hayu, endangering the shuttles and cluttering the sky view.
Talu and his crew returned to the planets surface each day after their shift, today it was much later than usual; there was no friendly banter, or evening plans made, they all simply turned in their spacesuits, punched ir shift cards, and left for their homes. All except Talu. He wanted this day to be over as much as the rest of them, as it was Otra had probably already called the office to check in. Twice unless he missed his guess. Even still he had to talk to his supervisor about the earth problem. Something had to be done. Talu changed back into his casual clothes, tossing his spacesuit in its designated bin then headed to the other side of the building to Joras office.
The entire centre, The Buli Destra Centre for Space Exploration and Advancement, was roughly the size of a small town; each department like its own little neighborhood within that town. Talu headed a crew of 13 which was responsible for debris in one sector of space above the planet; it was the most menial job at the entire Centre but, as with most menial task, the one necessary for the rest of the jobs to run. Necessary or no their offices and change rooms where in an out of the way portion of the Centre; Joras office meanwhile, sat close to the plush centre courtyard.
“Come in.” Jora called in response to his knock, about 12 minutes later.
Talu opened the door to a small but bright office. The glass ceiling filled the room with light and unlike his own closet sized office, hers was decorated. There were a few potted plants, their red leaves creating a nice contrast to the pale stone of the walls. Jora had even hung a portrait of her family on the wall. She looked confused to see Talu standing in her doorway.
“How can I help you. . . Uhm?”
“Talu,” he said. “Talu Deprie. I head Crew 6 in Clean Up.”
Jora nodded but Talu could see that she still didn’t recognize him. No wonder, she was in charge of the entire clean up effort, the one who managed their budget and made appearances whenever the people needed a reminder of why their skies were clear. The people recognized her job as necessary, for the good of the planet. She was above the garbage men that actually did the job she took credit for. She looked at him in a way that made him feel as if she really did not want him here any longer so he hurried to his point.
“Today Crews 4, 3, and 10 were all redirected to our sector to assist with a massive spill of earth garbage.”
“Yes I heard. I had to redirect their shuttles to your sector and leave theirs unmanned for hours while I scrambled to call in their backups.”
She straightened up in her chair, agitation flooding her features. She looked at him as if expecting an apology for all of the trouble she had gone through to deal with the minor crisis. Talu inhaled and let the breath out slow steeling himself to finish the conversation.
“Something needs to be done about the Earth debris. It is only getting worse and if they are putting out more bombs of plastic garbage then this level of sort of. . . ” Talu trailed off. Jora wasn’t listening, she was waiting for him to finish speaking but she wasn’t hearing him.
“Yes. Look Talu, I have nearly 30 crews to oversee, as well as a damage report from todays incident, and I still have to finalize our budget for this new round of hiring” Jora went on with no particular inflection. “Why should I be worried about what the earthlings do with their garbage? It is your job Tani, not mine, to care about what happens to earth trash. It’s my job to keep us funded and your little stunt today is not sitting well with the media.”
Right, Talu thought, because it’s our fault thousands of tiny pieces of garbage were flung at high speed into our sector.
“You can go now.” Jora said turning back to her screen. Talu went.
“I still do not see why she had to be so rude to you!” Otra said around a mouthful of sprouts. She had held dinner until he came home, then fussed over his aching body for an hour before she would let him eat. Not that she was letting him eat.
“It’s what I expected; she doesn’t know any of us on Clean up. She’s a public figure more than a supervisor.” He took a bite of the crisp vegetables before Otra could prompt him to speak again.
“She is rude.” Orta said as if this were a known fact; just another tidbit from the her biography. “Who is her supervisor? Who is in charge of Alien Relations? Can’t you speak to her or something?”
Talu paused, fork halfway to his mouth. “Alien Relations! That’s a great idea Otra!” he smiled at her and was rewarded with her heart stopping grin in return.
“You have tomorrow off,” she said. “You should go make an appointment with her.” “Him, Trol Fuper. He has been heading the department for a few years now.”
“And he hasn’t done anything about the earthlings?”
Talu shrugged, taking a bit of food and letting the conversation lull. “Most departments have a policy of trying to pretend they simply don’t exist.” he said at length. “They are a warlike people, rude, and violent. Most think it’s best if they just don’t know we’re here.”
Otra put down her fork and looked at him confused. “Didn’t they recover a capsule of presents 10 years ago from Earth?” she asked. “It had all that weird food like stuff, and the bizarre noise? I remember thinking earthlings must be machines since all of their things are synthetic and toxic!”
Talu nodded. That had been an interesting day for the entire planet; Earth had sent out a greeting. It seemed that would be the beginning of a healthy neighbor relationship between the two planets. Everyone was amazed by the strange gifts in the capsule and looked forward to contacting the earthlings. It wasn’t until some time later, after tests had been run on the items that it was discovered they were deadly if handled in large doses. This had only spurred public interest more.
“After that the Centre sent a crew to see if Earth was even safe for our people,” Talu told her. “They found out that it was, in fact we could probably breathe the air with nothing but a filtration mask. But the more they watched the more they realized that the Earthlings were dangerous. They never made contact and haven’t gone back since. I always thought that was the last contact we had with them but we’ve been getting their refuse for years now. It has to stop.”
Otra reached across the table wrapping his hand in hers. He noticed her nails were painted deep blue flecked with white, he couldn’t help but smile; even if he was the lowliest of the nobodies at the Centre he could always count on Otra to be proud to say her partner worked for the Space Centre.
The next day Talu waited in a section of the Centre he had never seen before. He hadn’t even entered by a familiar road but even though it was a much nicer area he could tell it was still the Centre Compound by the trademark rocket logo plastered on every signpost. He’d always thought it a tacky thing for such a prestigious organization but changing it would only confuse people. There was one such logo painted on the wall across from where he sat in waiting room of Trol Fupers office. Talu had been astonished that he could get an appointment so soon with Fuper himself but apparently the Alien Relations director was just as eager to hear about the previous days trash spill as Talu was to talk about it. Even so he had shown up early, not wanting to risk being overlooked or forgotten.
“Talu Deprie?” The secretary called out. “Trol will see you now.”
Wiping the sweat from his palms Talu stood and headed back towards the office, the secretary leading the way. He opened the door to let Talu pass but Talu stood, a little shocked at what lay beyond the doors. It wasn’t an office, or it wasn’t just an office. There was no desk but a large table made of stone with a screen set on one end in front of a rolling chair. The rest of the surface was covered in rocks, bits of metal, plastic, gems. There were holographs with data floating above these. More impressive than the desk was the ceiling, instead of a large glass window like most offices, this ceiling appeared to be projecting an image of stars and planets.
“That’s a live feed.” Trol said.
Talu realized he’d been staring and, embarrassed, looked away. Trol motioned for him to come in and the secretary shut the door behind him. From inside Trol could see that one of the walls was turned into a giant shelf full of artifacts from foreign worlds, each with a data module floating before it, waiting to be interacted with.
“Impressive isn’t it?” Trol said. “I’ve got my own little museum in here.”
“This is much grander than our offices over at clean up.” Talu said, then mentally kicked himself for being so awkward.
Trol only laughed. “I’d expect so, you guys don’t spend too much time in your offices down there. I basically live here. Hence the live feed.” he gestured towards the ceiling. “I haven’t even been on a shuttle in weeks.”
That surprised Talu more than anything else but he didn’t want to get too distracted; if he lost his nerve now nothing would change.
“I need to speak to an earthling.” he demanded. He hadn’t meant it to come out with such force but he was nervous; at best he’d be politely laughed out of the Centre. Trol only nodded.
“Yes. Yes I think that’s for the best too.”
Talu could only gape.”Wha-?”
Trol gestured for him to sit down at one of two plush chairs in the back of the room. There was a table with a small board of fruit and fizzy drinks which Trol offered up as well. When they were seated and had their glasses Trol leaned forward, as if not wanting to be overheard in the empty room.
“I have been working at the Centre for 4 years now; under my guidance we have made contact with 2 other planets. 2!” he looked at Talu as if he needed him to understand the magnitude of what he was being told. Talu didn’t have to feign surprise, he had heard nothing about a second contact and he said as much. “There’s a lot that we do here that doesn’t get talked about for a while. We now have a friendly relationship with the people of Cavertora so that became public knowledge, a full year after we made first contact mind. This other one, well they haven’t decided if they want an intergalactic relationship yet so we’re keeping it hush to prevent any rogue travelers from trying to head their way. It’s politics.” he gestured with his hand to show he didn’t quite care for such politics. “I can’t legally get near Earth though. We didn’t just stop exploration 10 years ago, we put blocks on any contact with them. Permanently. They would be a danger to us if they knew we existed.
Talu nodded. Everyone had been told they were dangerous but no one knew it was illegal to try and contact them.
“So” he said “That means we will not be able to speak with their leaders about the trash after all?”
Trol shook his head. “No. That means you’re about to do something highly illegal and reckless.”
Talu choked on a mouthful of juice. “But- but you said they can not know we exist. They would wage war on us! If the Centre believes them to still be dangerous-?” Trol smiled “Not everyone at the centre believes they are that dangerous. Many of us think they are simply ignorant and if they could see that their actions impacted others they would be likely to make changes. We have been wanting a reason to try this insane plan for years now and the garbage spill yesterday is just the excuse we need.”
Talu began to sweat. He had never imagined he would actually get to speak with an earthling, maybe, he had thought, he would be able to see some data about their garbage. At best stir enough of a fuss to initiate a little more study into their closest neighbor. But when he said he needs to speak with an earthling it was mostly for show. He wouldn’t know the first thing about earthlings.
Trol assured him that everything was taken care of. They just needed volunteers, preferably people who knew how to man a shuttle but were low level enough that they wouldn’t be missed for the 2 months it would take to get to Earth and back again. People from Clean Up were perfect candidates. They had the knowledge and the motivation, partnered with an intern from the cultural studies department they could make it to Earth, introduce themselves and their concerns, then return home to a heroes welcome.It had been planned for years, it just needed to happen now.
That night Talu told Otra about the offer, expecting her to be giddy with excitement over the prospects. Instead she cried.
She said he had to do it, it was a once in a lifetime chance that she wouldn’t have him miss but that she didn’t like the idea of him being gone for 2 or more months. Her tears had added to the doubts tugging his chest but she wanted him to do it and at the end of the day that was all he needed to hear.
He went two days later to tell Trol he volunteered. The other man nodded and sent a message to Clean Up that Talu, and 3 other people were being transferred to Alien Relations on a temporary assignment to do with the recent spill.
“Jora will not be happy about that.” Talu mused.
The other members of Clean Up nodded their agreement.
Trol waved off their concern. “I outrank her on my worst days.”
The first day they all got together they met in a shuttle training simulation. There was room for each of the 4 people from clean up and the culture intern but the addition of Trol and a stranger that he had brought along made the space cramped.
“Might as well get to know one another in close quarters!”
Trol had been giddy as a child since all of the volunteers had said yes. It was clear that though he hadn’t initiated this project it was near to his heart.
“Everyone, this is Sapi. She works as a researcher here at AR, she has been studying earthlings since the early days.” he indicated the stranger. Then he pointed around to the others “This is Klum, Asta, Talu, Dero, and you know Lart. Alright lets begin!”
They spent the first day talking about the goals of the expedition. Talu learned that it wasn’t just about the trash and the noise, they were meant to see if they could bring an earthling back with them.
“I would love to meet one,” Sapi said. “And they seem to be a curious species, I think it would be easy to convince one or two to come back with you.”
For the whole of seven days they studied earthlings and their culture. Lart already knew a smattering of their primary language. It turned out, Talu was shocked to discover, the noise they sent in the capsule was meant to be music, and the strange symbols on their garbage was writing. Why they would write on plastic was beyond his comprehension though. Didn’t they have screens? These questions weren’t answered but they were given crash courses in the language. By the end of the 7th day Talu could speak enough earthling to be considered confusing gibberish.
Otra enjoyed this training, which he brought home every night and relieved for her. She declared that should they ever have a child it would be named “Baby” which was an earthling word which meant infant child as well as someone you love especially. Talu agreed that it was a fitting name.
On the morning of the 10th day they were ready to leave. Talu said goodbye to Otra who cried as he left the house but wished him safe travels. He hated leaving her alone like that. Even though he knew she would have friends and coworkers to fill her days with company it still hurt to think of her having dinner alone for 2 months.
He met with his crew outside the Alien Relations office and they all wondered aloud why it was so easy to simply walk in and board a shuttle.
“There is nothing out if the ordinary about me sending a crew out in such a way,”Trol explained. “I do this every few weeks, just not with this particular destination in mind.”
With minimal fanfare the crew of 5 boarded the already stocked shuttle and took off towards the stars.
It was halfway through the second month that the signal reached Trol in his office. He didn’t open the alert right away and instead called for Sapi and Gili, another researcher who had been working on this project with them. They both arrived within minutes, flushed and panting from having to run from their offices in the research department. “Open it!” Sapi practically shouted. “This must be their first contact report, the one we got 2 days ago said they were within contact range of the planet”
The three gathered around Trols screen and he clicked opened the message. As soon as it opened their faces fell.
“Oh well. Can’t win them all I suppose.” Trol said. Gili and Sapi nodded. “It’s a shame, we were so close. I say we give it another 5 years before we try again. Want to go get lunch since we’re all here anyway?”
That got everyone’s mood up and the left the office discussing the peculiar earth creatures and how to go about trying again. On the screen was a short video loop showing an object flying from the planets surface towards the camera mounted at the front if the shuttle. The one line of text read “Error: Signal interrupted. No life signs available.”