booksandstories.com

March 2002 Review

Web Page Progress

Last week my website hosting company, Brinkster, altered the names of its users directories. This was because Brinkster had originally been known as Ewebcity. They changed their name quite some time ago, but left the directory names the same. I suppose it was about time they finished off the changes, but it did catch me by surprise. As a result, the site was unavailable for a few days between the 21st and 24th of March. Fortunately, I was able to redirect my domain name at NetNames to the correct directory rather quickly once I found out, and so the break in service didn't last too long. Sorry if you were inconvenienced.

Another change that's going through is on the Order Page. Well, not on my Order Page exactly, but on the one for Worldpay who I use for the credit/debit card payment system. They are adding extra security and other "improvements". I'm sure it looks pretty. Let me know if it causes any problems.

I've noticed a slight up turn in visits this month. I don't know why in particular. Maybe this site features in a few more listings, who knows? I should check of course. There were some websites that allowed you to check your rankings in search engines, but I've forgotten them all. I'll probably have to do a search to find them again. I wonder if its seasonal?

Writing Progress

I'm back into "The Friendly Ambassador", but it's still going slowly. I've concentrated on various storylines that I'm more comfortable with, intending to leave the annoying ones until a light bulb goes off in my head. Fat chance! The light bulbs are usually pocket torch size at best, I think this one will need to be lighthouse sized! Anyway, fitting the missing bits in later isn't too much of a problem because the story is being told on five different fronts, and I try and alternate from one to another. This means that I can write several chapters knowing that other chapters will be slotted in between them later on. I've written my stories like this before, and it often gets complicated trying to sort out the correct time frames in each chapter, like when does it get dark, what time is it, and where everyone is when a global event occurs? It makess it fun, but I have often agonised over which chapter should appear first in some sequences. I don't want to pre-judge which character or storyline might be the most popular, and so I try and be fair and make sure that none of them are left out for too long. Anyway, it's moving again, and that can't be bad.

Last month's Short Story continues as promised. The first part now entitled "The Dreamer: Part I" has also been added to the List Page. The bad news is that you still have to wait until next month to see what happens! The story keeps getting longer and longer, I think it's becoming a serial! So, Part II this month, and Part III next month.

See you next time.

March's Short Story: The Dreamer: Part II

Jonathan was in his element. He was on his knees over the first body. It wasn't really a body, more like a skeleton with remains of clothing that were more mould than fabric. The atmosphere in the ship and the mould had done it's work. What was left of the body was slimy and green looking mush, not helped by Carl's big booted feet. The bones looked hard and heavy. It wasn't at all like the picture of the alien they had found in the cabin. This one was much slimmer. Again, it was bipedal, but the arms seemed very long.

They were all gathered together again. Even Luigi, although he looked annoyed to have to be there instead of searching for more books. They were in an anti-room that led to a much larger room that contained a lot of complex looking machines. Scott and Carl had wanted to examine the contents of the room straight away, but Jonathan had stopped them.

"No one touches or moves anything until I've finished. You've already done enough damage here."

Carl sounded apologetic. "I didn't see it. I trod on it. I'm sorry. But that shouldn't interfere with what we have to do."

"You do nothing until I've finished."

Scott raised his gloved hand towards the large room and got to the point. "That's the engine room! Bound to be! We need to get in there! Now!"

Jonathan got equally quickly to the point. "And what if what killed them, kills you? Permit me to point out the obvious, but these are the only two bodies we have found, and they're both outside this doorway. Am I the only one to notice this apparent coincidence?"

Angela looked at the position of the two bodies. It was so obvious when he said it, so obvious and clear. It was an argument Scott had no response to, so he let Jonathan get on with it. Angela couldn't help feeling sorry for him. What he and Carl wanted the most to find was probably just through that door, and all he could do was look at it. And the clock was ticking.

Jonathan probed the body, lifting flaps of mould and what could either be fabric or skin. He kept describing what he was doing and what he found. It must have been a habit instilled by all those autopsies he must have carried out. It seemed morbid.

"Body is lying face down. Position of arms and legs suggests the alien fell while in motion. Decomposition of tissues are very advanced. Basic format of the skeleton is similar to ours but different from the pictured alien we saw before."

Luigi was in agreement. "They aren't the same race, that's clear to everyone."

Jonathan pulled flaps of something away. "There's a spine under here, and a rib-cage that seems to have survived Carl's attentions."

"Thank you!" Carl cut in.

Jonathan poked at the large ribs over the chest cavity. "Most of the bones seem to be intact. Hello. There's a break in some of these ribs. Yes. A clear curved edge to the break with a gap between. The missing portions of the bone material suggests a circular hole..."

Scott moved away from the door. "A circular hole?"

Lucy said, "If you say something burst out of his chest, I'm going to trample you to death on my way back to the Intrepid. Got it?"

Jonathan was the only one that chuckled. "No. This was an entry hole, I'm pretty sure of it. It seems to go in very deeply and the tissue underneath has the same round shape cut all the way in."

Carl went to lean over Jonathan. "Are you saying he was shot?"

Lucy didn't like the idea of that, either. "Shot? You mean somebody killed him?"

Luigi was his usual sarcastic self. "No, he was alone on the ship so he decided to shoot himself in the back!"

Lucy gestured towards the other body. "What about him?"

Carl was more interested in the weapon than the murderer. "Who ever it was is long gone, Lucy. This ship has been floating around for years. Jonathan, was it a precussion weapon? Is there a bullet?"

"No," Jonathan replied. "The edges are too fine, the shape too precise." He leaned back to let them all see. "Look. The bones would have been broken away more raggedly if a piece of metal like a bullet broke through. But you can see the almost perfect shape of the hole, and the bones are still in place. There is no deflection."

They all leaned over the body. It was a mess, but the hole and the cylindrical tunnel boring down through the almost putrified flesh was unmistakeable. Jonathan kept poking about inside, it made Angela feel queasy.

"Do you have to do that?" she asked.

"I want to find the exit hole and what remains of his internal organs." As he spoke, Jonathan began to turn the body over. The pressure of his gloved hand suddenly broke the ribs and his hand went inside. It caused a splash of green and brown mush.

Angela put a hand up to her visor. "Oh, that's absolutely disgusting!" She turned away.

Carl didn't care. "Could it be some sort of laser?"

"Possibly," Jonathan said thoughtfully. He began to poke around some more. "Everything has decayed inside. Gravity has caused most of the remains to pool at the bottom." He scraped away at the ribs at the front of the body. "Yes. Here it is. Another perfect round hole. It went straight through as I thought."

"Then it must have left a burn mark somewhere." Carl turned to find Scott already at the far wall. He went to join him and the beams from their lamps lit the wall. "Have you found it?" he asked.

Scott suddenly pointed. "There!"

Angela went to join them, standing next to Scott. The mark on the wall was quite clear, even before Carl reached out to scrape the mould away. A crater in the wall, the edges melted.

Carl and Scott huddled next to it, pushing Angela out of the way.

"It must have been a laser!" Carl said excitedly.

"Or a high energy beam of some sort," Scott suggested.

Angela must have looked abandoned even in her space suit, because Luigi said, "Never mind, Angela. Come and stand by Lucy and me. We are planning our fastest route back to the Intrepid!"

Lucy tried to fold her arms in her space suit but found she couldn't. "I'm not going anywhere until I know who killed who," she said, giving up on the manoeuvre.

Jonathan got up from the floor. "Well, let's see, shall we?" He went over to the other body and knelt down again. Angela, Lucy and Luigi all went to stand next to him. They looked down as he began to probe around again.

"Now, this is very different," he said. "A bipedal form as before, but the size and shape of the limbs are different from the first body." He pulled at the remaining skin and fabric. It broke away and collapsed in his fingers. "The decay is much greater than the first body. Yes, the bones have lost their rigidity. See how they break and fall apart?" He demonstrated as he spoke, crushing the bones with his fingers. There was no strength in them. Everything broke and crumbled as if it was made from soft clay. "If it wasn't for the damp atmosphere in here, I'd say this body would be mumified."

Luigi bent over him. "So it's a lot older?"

Jonathan continued to probe around. "Yes." He spoke in a disinterested manner.

"How much older?" Luigi pressed him. "A hundred years?"

"More," Jonathan muttered.

Lucy must have been getting as annoyed with him as Luigi was. "Just tell us how old, will you?" she snapped.

Jonathan sat back on his knees, his space suit now a mess of mould and stains of mush. He pointed to the first body. "That one, less than a hundred years. It's difficult to say precisely because of the atmosphere in here. It's probably cold, but it's also quite obviously damp. There's a high moisture content in the air, so that's going to have an affect on the ageing process. I'll have to take some tissue samples back to the EPD and do some detailed tests. As for this body, well, I'd guess it was between five hundred to a thousand years old."

Angela stared down at the body. "Oh, my. This ship had already been abandoned when we were in the middle ages."

"That isn't the most important conclusion," Jonathan replied.

Scott now came over with Carl. "We found another burn mark in the wall," he said. "This second guy was shot too, wasn't he?"

Jonathan raised his hand. "That's the important conclusion. I found the same cylindrical hole in the second body. Both these aliens could have been shot a thousand years apart. And that tells us something very important."

Scott had moved closer to the doorway of the engine room. "A thousand years apart, two aliens go in the engine room and both get shot in the back coming out. That means something was still working in there. Something that's probably still working now."

Lucy took a deep breath and sighed. "Oh, glory. We're all going to die."

Angela looked around at the sad figures they had all become. "Oh stop it, you!" she said to Lucy. "We are not going to die!"

Luigi laughed. "That's what they thought."

Angela turned to him. "Oh yes? And where are the rest of their crew? Did these aliens come here on their own? Where are all the other bodies? And if they took them away, why abandon these two? And if they all did die, why aren't their empty ships still docked to the hull?"

Everyone had now turned to face her, and to Angela's surprise and great pleasure, Scott suddenly said, "Brilliant! Thank you, Angela! Thank you for reminding us who we are and why we're here! Those are exactly the questions we should be asking! So, come on, all of you! What are the answers? Where are the other bodies? Where are the ships? There must have been at least two."

Lucy caught his enthusiasm. "They must have got away!"

Carl pointed at the bodies. "These two didn't."

Lucy was determined to be upbeat. "But Angela is right! There are no other bodies but these two! They must have got away!"

Scott quickly said, "Assume it to be fact. They got away leaving these two behind. A thousand years apart. Think how and why."

There was a brief pause as they all had a think. Then Luigi spoke up. What he said was rather confusing.

"'Tis a far, far better thing I do now than I have ever done..."

Everyone looked at him. Lucy said, "That sounds familiar. Are you reciting something?"

Luigi nodded in his suit, his illuminated head bobbing. "'A Tale Of Two Cities."

Carl suddenly said, "I've heard of that one! It's the bit where the hero goes to the guillotine in place of someone else, isn't it?"

Luigi nodded again. It slowly sank in, and Lucy was the first to react.

"Oh, glory!" she suddenly exclaimed, kicking at the wall and stamping her foot. "Oh, qarks, neutrons, and positrons! It's already happened, hasn't it? Whatever they did, we've already done! We're in the same trap and it's going to go the same way! Oh, oh,...stuff!"

Carl reached out to her. "It's not going the same way!" he insisted, his voice as raised as hers. "We aren't them!"

Lucy clinked the visor of her helmet against his. "That's what the second alien thought!" she snapped back. "We're in the same hole, Carl, don't you see? It's so obvious! Whatever it is, it needs someone to get in there, un-do it, and get out again! And we all know what happens to the poor guy who volunteers!"

"It's not going to happen!" Carl almost shouted back at her.

Scott quickly intervened, pulling them apart. "Stop arguing and think, will you? So what is this trap? What have we done since we got here that could possibly lead us to this?"

Carl and Lucy seemed to calm down. They moved further apart and Carl raised his hand to rub at his neck. He couldn't do it with his helmet on, and so he sighed instead. "We haven't done anything, Scott," he said sadly. "In truth, all we've done is search the place."

Luigi suggested, "Maybe it's just being here?"

And Jonathan said, "Maybe we should get back to the Intrepid. If there is anything wrong, we'll find out there."

Scott nodded. "Agreed." He looked at his watch. "We've got sixty-two minutes. Lets get moving."

They all shuffled out the door in subdued silence. In the room outside was the machine that Lucy had called a cryogenic chamber. They had hardly stopped to look at it on their way in, such was their hurry, but now, while everyone else walked passed on their way out, Angela paused to stare at it. It comprised of a hexagonal central piller that stretched from floor to ceiling around which were seven large egg shaped containers. They seemed to be leaning against the central piller, the fatter, rounder ends resting on the floor. Most of the containers were open, split in half along their longest edge, the uppermost section raised up to the ceiling. Angela moved closer to one of the open containers and stared inside. All she could see was a narrow black leathery seat with appertures on either side for legs and arms, and some sort of dished hole near the front. Condensation sparkled on the seat, but apart from that, it appeared to be clean.

Lucy stopped next to her and seized the opportunity to explain.

"We figure that you sit on it like on a motorbike, with your arms and legs thrust into those holes, and your head resting on that cup."

Angela leaned forward and stared at the dark interior of the cup. "That would cover my whole face," she remarked.

"It's probably supposed to," Lucy replied. "I bet there are tubes and things inside that feed you with air and stuff." She looked up at the machine and sighed. "I'd love to be able to check it over."

Jonathan had spent some time trying to wipe off the mush and stains on his space suit. He had been moderately successful, but would still require a hose down before gaining final entry into the Intrepid. The delay meant that he was the last to leave.

"And I would love to examine the possible occupant of that closed unit," he remarked as he passed them.

"Two, you mean," Lucy corrected him as he went by.

Jonathan paused and turned. "One."

"Two!" Lucy insisted. "Carl and I found two closed units, remember?"

Carl's voice came over the radio even though he had left the room with Scott and Luigi. "Lucy's right, Jonathan. There are two closed containers. We counted them."

"So have I," Jonathan replied. "And there's only one."

Lucy stared at the machine and then quickly walked around it. Jonathan was right. There was only one closed container. All the others were open, their upper sections raised to the ceiling. "Scott! Carl! Luigi!" she suddenly shouted. "Get back here! Now! Jonathan's right! The container that was closed before is now open!"

Her call brought everyone rushing back into the room. Scott quickly took command.

"Show me which units were closed!" he demanded.

Carl and Lucy quickly walked around the machine to two of the containers. Carl stood in front of a closed one, and Lucy stood in front of one of the open ones.

Scott turned to Carl. "Is that right, Carl?"

"Yeah! This one and that one!"

Angela could hear them all breathing fast on the radio. They were all suddenly excited, or scared. Angela wasn't sure how she felt. She moved closer to the open container, the one Lucy had indicated as having been closed before. The leather like interior looked different to the others. Angela reached down on impulse and rubbed her gloved hand over the black seat. She then raised her hand and everyone stared at her clean and dry glove. Their hearts were suddenly beating a lot faster.

"Oh, glory. We've got company," Lucy breathed.

Scott started the ball rolling.

"How did he get passed us?" he asked.

Carl said, "Maybe it didn't open up until we were all inside that other room."

"But we heard nothing!"

Angela stated the obvious. "With these damned suits on how could we hear anything? He could have been talking to us for half an hour! I hate these suits! I hate them!"

"Alright! Shut up!" Scott snapped at her rather harshly. "Where'd he go?"

"Oh, glory...," Lucy muttered. "This must be how it happens. This alien wakes up, casts the ship adrift, kills all the other aliens and then goes back to sleep."

"Will you stop it!" Scott snapped at her.

Jonathan had a more reasonable reply. "Then why didn't he kill us already? And why leave the bodies back there while removing all the others? It doesn't make sense."

Lucy wasn't to be put off. "He's gone back to the Intrepid! Bound to! He's probably there now, ripping out the engine!"

Luigi sounded more hopeful than convinced when he said, "The alien wouldn't know where the Intrepid is, Lucy. And he's bound to be disorientated after a long period in cryogenic sleep. He's probably just wandering around somewhere."

Angela said, "He'll find the EPD. You left it sticking out in the corridor, remember?"

There was a moment's pause, and then they all ran, bounding out of the room and rushing down the corridor. Angela could hear everyone panting and gasping on the radio. They were all fighting to keep their feet in the ungainly space suits while trying to run as fast as they could. She was running and gasping just like them, all her expertise and experience lost under the weight of one powerful thought: If the Intrepid was lost, they would be stuck on this hulk with no means of escape and only the air in their space suits to live on.

It seemed to take an age, running down the mouldy corridors, door after darkened door rushing passed them. The alien could have been hiding in any one of the rooms they passed, waiting to pick off the last of them as they ran by. It never crossed their minds for a second, such was their panic. Finally, the EPD came into view. It was still where they had left it, half in and half out of the doorway.

They came to a gasping halt at the door. Scott waved them all behind him as he and Carl edged forward.

"Keep back," he gasped, out of breath. "Carl....be ready."

As Scott leaned forward and was about to look through the doorway, Lucy said what Angela was feeling. "If something grab's you.....I'm going to scream!"

Scott pulled back. "Shut up!"

Luigi said breathlessly, "Hold on....to my hand, Lucy.....I'll look after you!"

"Get....stuffed!"

"Shut up....all of you!" Scott repeated, anger in his voice now.

Angela watched him lean forward again. Those damned suits made it difficult for Scott to look into the room without exposing half his body. She couldn't help it, she kept imagining some evil alien creature suddenly appearing with a roar and gobbling him up. She wanted to say, 'Be careful!' she wanted to say, 'Let Luigi go first!' but all she could do was look and mentally bite her nails.

Scott looked through the doorway.

"It's clear!"

Scott waved Carl forward and the two of them went into the room. Luigi, Jonathan, Lucy and Angela followed them in. It was only then that Angela realised that she was the last one in the queue. With a horrible sinking feeling, her exposed position as they ran along the corridors suddenly occurred to her. She stopped in the doorway, and her breathing, already fast from her exertions, began to increase as the impulse to turn around and look behind her became overpowering. Slowly, her heart beating like a drum, she turned and looked back.

The beam from her lamp flickered down the empty corridor. She almost moaned in relief, and as she turned back to face the door, her visor clinked against the visor of Scott's helmet. It caused her to jump and cry out. Scott wasn't impressed.

"Keep it together, will you!" he hissed at her in a whisper that everyone else could hear. "I don't want you coming apart now, not when we need you the most! Come on!"

Scott pulled her inside the room. It was the same as before. The light from their lamps lit the walls and furnishings. The room looked the same as when she had last seen it. The only difference was that on one of the tables was a pile of books and papers that Luigi and Jonathan had obviosly gathered together.

Angela felt embarrassed. She also felt angry with herself. She had lost control for a few seconds, overpowered by an imagination fed by too many films and television programs. She tried to tell herself that she was just being silly, but the truth was, that in all her travels, she had never felt as scared as she had been at that moment.

Scott pulled her along behind him. He took her to the hole in the wall where Lucy and Luigi were standing. The hole was a bright light. Angela could see into the airlock where Jonathan was trying to look over Carl's shoulder. Carl was looking through the viewing port. Everything seemed to be alright. So why was everyone so quiet?

"He didn't come here after all," Angela remarked.

Lucy pointed to the wall inside the airlock. Angela turned and saw a large green-stained hand print on the wall. It had three fingers.

Lucy said, "There's another one on the ceiling. And there's a couple of scuffed footprints on the floor."

She spoke in a whisper, like Scott had done. It was silly. No one else could hear them in their suits. Despite this, Jonathan also spoke in a whisper.

"The zero gravity must have caught him by surprise. He probably spun and reached out to steady himself. There's no doubt that he's inside."

Angela just stared at the prints. Her brain did a whirl. This was an alien, not a monster from films. It was a person like them. An intelligent, thinking creature, something that thought and loved and felt the way they did. It had to be. How else could it end up on this space ship? Unless of course it was the ship's cat. It was a silly thought that just popped into her mind. It could be the case, how would they know? Angela dismissed the idea. Dismissed it because it didn't matter. Even if it was the ship's cat, it still had to be intelligent, or how else had it operated the cryogenic chamber and opened the airlock? No, this was an intelligent alien, an alien she was about to meet. It was the moment she had dreamed about, the very reason for her being on this trip. All that time trapped in the tiny cabin with Lucy, eating funny 'space food' and using that contraption that was supposed to be a toilet, all of it was worth it just for this. She was going to meet a creature from another world, a creature from another time, probably.

The very idea caused a complete change to come over Angela. A few moments before and she had been overpowered with the fear of an imagined alien full of teeth and ferocity. Now she realised how silly that was. Silly because she had met people all over the world, and she had learned long ago that the worse monsters were always the human variety. This alien would be no different. It might look different, it's anatomy might be different, but inside it's head it would be the same as any other unknown race. The thought of meeting it caused her heart to beat faster. She was suddenly on very familiar ground, and the most overpowering thought now in her mind was the urge to get inside the Intrepid.

"I have to get inside," she stated, suddenly calm and ready.

Scott said, "You'll go in after me and Carl. It could be dangerous."

Angela was cool and determined. "There was no point in bringing me along if I don't go in first. The moment you come face to face with him for the first time is all that counts. Get it wrong, and you won't get a chance to put it right. Someone could even end up dead."

Scott sighed. "Alright, but stay close to us. Jonathan, Lucy, Luigi, wait out here until we call you in. We might not have the time to wait for the airlock to cycle, so keep it clear in case we have to come back out in a hurry."

Luigi said, "Do not worry, Capitan. None of us have any intention of disobeying you."

It was the kind of remark that would usually have brought a smile to Angela's lips. But on this occasion, the whole of Angela's mind was filled with just one set of thoughts: How would the alien vocalise? How would it hear? Which gestures or expressions would bring the best responses? And which ones should she avoid?

Angela was suddenly inside the airlock with Carl and Scott. She felt light as a feather again. It was a blessed relief. The door slid closed behind them, another hand print appearing. None of them noticed it. Carl was still staring through the viewing port as the airlock cycled.

Scott leaned closer to him. "Can you see anything?"

"Nothing."

The airlock finished cycling and Carl stepped back.

Scott took a deep breath. "Alright! Let's do it!"

Carl hit the control and the door slid open. To Angela's surprise both Carl and Scott darted out of the airlock and went gliding straight for one of the lockers. She was even more surprised when they pulled out two hand guns.

"Oh, no, Scott!" she exclaimed, drifting forward. "Have those been in there all this time? How could you?"

"You might not say that if things get ugly!" Scott replied.

Lucy's voice came over the radio. "What's happened, Angela? Are you all alright?"

"Scott and Carl have got guns," Angela told her.

"Good! You might need them!"

Luigi was less approving. "Typical military thinking!" he scoffed. "We come in peace -where's my blaster?"

Scott then said, "Shut up, all of you! Angela, come this way! Stay between me and Carl! Carl, I'll take the lead, watch our backs!"

They moved forward through the ship, passing each familiar section. Everything seemed normal. There was no hint of danger, no sign of any alien passing, not even a hand print. They reached the flight deck. Still nothing.

Scott checked the controls. "Nothing's been touched," he said. "Let's head back the other way. Carl, you take the lead this time! Luigi, anything back there?"

Luigi's voice replied, "Nothing to report, Capitan. Jonathan is examining the hand prints on the wall and Lucy still defies my gentle approaches."

"Get stuffed!" Lucy's voice replied.

"Stay alert!" Scott told them.

They began to move back through the ship, retracing their path. They drifted slowly, effortlessly. Despite this, Angela felt her heart beating rapidly. She wasn't sure what scared her the most, the unseen alien, or the guns Carl and Scott carried and aimmed menacingly. There was still no sign of anything unusual. Nothing was moved or disturbed. They reached the airlock and moved on. They came to the kitchen area and the first of the living quarters. Carl paused by the first one, staring inside, his gun held ready.

Scott whispered, "Anything?"

And Carl replied, "No."

They moved on.

Angela couldn't stand it. She wanted to tear her helmet off and call out. She hated this silent drifting about with her heart in her mouth. She just wanted something to happen. Finally it did.

They had gone passed another of the cabins when Angela noticed something drifting in the air. She turned to face it and it came straight at her. She tried to duck, but couldn't manage it in the zero gravity. It was as if her helmet was a magnet and the thing flopped over her visor. Angela stared at it in surprise. It was one of her knickers.

"He's in our cabin," she said.

"Oh, no he's not," Scott replied.

And Carl gasped, "Oh, shit..."

Angela reached up and pulled the knickers from her visor and there he was, right in front of her, inches away.

He was big, with a triangular shaped head that looked more like an insect's head, but his skin was pink, like their's. The top of his head was crowned with a crest of spines, and he had large bulbous eyes that were bright and white, with large pupils but no surrounding iris. They stood out on either side of his face and were almost like fish eyes, but instead of being cold and lifeless, they darted and spun back and forth independantly as he looked around at them all. He seemed to have no ears or nose, but there was some sort of mask over the lower part of his face, so they could have been hidden. Over his body he was wearing white clothing that looked worn and frayed. His shoulders and arms were big, massive, but his lower body was small, his legs curled up beneath him as if he was used to zero gravity more than he was used to walking. Angela watched his eyes darting around as he watched Carl and Scott. But in between each darting glance, they would both come back to fix on her.

There was no doubt in Angela's mind that he was intelligent. He had planned his move to perfection. He was right between Carl and Scott, right beside her. If they tried to shoot they would risk killing her or each other. It was perfect. As Scott and Carl raised their guns, he reached out with one large pink hand and grabbed the front of Angela's space suit. Almost in slow motion his long fingers curled delicately around the fabric of her suit, crushing it slightly with his obvious strength as he pulled her closer. Now she was right under his face, staring up at him.

Scott whispered, "What ever you do, Angela, don't move!"

"And whatever you do, don't shoot him, and don't interfere," Angela replied in a loud and clear voice, and then she reached up and began to release the catches on her helmet.

"No, Angela! Don't be stupid!" Scott told her.

Angela ignored him. His wasn't the only voice on the radio now. Luigi, Lucy and Jonathan had started talking as soon as Scott had given his warning. Now they were all talking at once. They all wanted to know what was going on, or what was happening. Or they wanted to tell her what to do. Angela knew what to do. She took off her helmet, letting it float free, the excited voices gradually fading as the helmet drifted away.

Now she was face to face with the alien, now she could breathe the same air as him, hear the same noises, and feel the same vibrations. She could see him properly now. She could smell him. It was an old, musty smell. Probably his clothes. Both his eyes were focussed on her now, looking down at her and at nothing else. He was probably as surprised by her appearence as she was of his. But the important thing was, she had his attention. She tilted her head slowly to one side, held it there, then tilted it slowly the other way. The alien watched her for a few moments before reaching out towards her with his free hand. His fingers straightened out and claws suddenly extended from the ends of his fingertips. Thoughts of the ship's cat returned briefly to Angela's mind, but it didn't disturb her thinking. She brought her hands together slowly in front of her, pulling off one of her gloves. With her hand exposed, she began to reach out slowly towards the cabin wall near her. It seemed so far away, she just hoped that she could reach it. As the clawed fingers came ever closer to her face, she continued tilting her head from side to side, keeping her eyes always fixed on his. She smiled but kept her mouth closed in case bared teeth should suggest a threat. The clawed fingers now hovered over her head, the claws actually brushing her hair as she tilted her head once more. He could grab her at any instant, crush her skull, twist off her head. Angela didn't want to give him too long to think about it. She had finally reached the cabin wall with her bare hand and now she began tapping her knuckles against the metal.

Tap-tap-ta-tap-tap. Pause. Tap-tap.

The alien's claws retracted and his fingers curled into a tight fist, his pupils dilating.

Tap-tap-ta-tap-tap. Pause. Tap-tap.

Angela repeated the sequence twice more

Tap-tap-ta-tap-tap. Pause. Tap-tap.

Tap-tap-ta-tap-tap. Pause. Tap-tap.

The alien continued to stare at her. Angela now changed her tune.

Tap-tap-ta-tap-tap. Pause.

Tap-tap-ta-tap-tap. Pause.

Each time Angela waited.

Tap-tap-ta-tap-tap. Pause.

Tap-tap-ta-tap-tap. Pause.

The alien uncurled his fingers and moved his hand towards the wall. His claws reappeared and he tapped on the metal with one of them.

Tap-tap.

Angela's smile widened. She repeated the shortened sequence.

Tap-tap-ta-tap-tap. Pause.

Tap-tap.

She was about to do the same again when the alien beat her to it.

Tap-tap-ta-tap-tap. Pause.

Now it was Angela that responded.

Tap-tap.

Tap-tap-ta-tap-tap. Pause.

Tap-tap.

Angela felt the sun exploding in her mind. Contact. First Contact. But now came the hard bit.

"Alright my friend," she whispered. "Now we know we can both think and reason, but can we communicate?"

The alien let go of her suit. He became agitated and waved his arms around. Scott had taken off his helmet like Angela, but unlike her, he held it close so that he could still talk on his radio. Now he and Carl raised their guns but then froze when it finally happened. It was such a surprise, such a shock, even though they should have expected it. Angela's eyes grew wide as the alien suddenly issued a series of obvious words and clicks in a muffled but deep voice.

"Ub lik nac- " click, " -tikmak toop labsoklit- " click, " -nap ut lop kit- " click, " -macka saptuk!"

Carl, Scott and Angela all stared as the agitated alien pointed and waved his arms, turned and spun and talked incessantly.

"Ub lik nac denpok sat- " click, " -nap ut lop kit- " click, " -macka saptuk! Nap ut lop kit- " click, " -macka saptuk!"

His eyes darted about, he spun and faced them all, his arms waving above his head. "Nap ut lop kit- " click, " -macka saptuk!"

Angela could almost hear the pleading tone in his muffled voice. Then, suddenly, in one swift movement, the alien ripped away what was obviously a face mask and his nose and mouth appeared. His nose was flat with a single nostril and his mouth turned out to be a large and fearsome beak. The cause of the clicks was now revealed as he repeated his phrase, his voice much louder and his beak snapping.

"Nap ut lop kit- " snap, " -macka saptuk!"

Angela was startled to hear Luigi's voice.

"The clicks are important!" he said excitedly, as he, Jonathan and Lucy floated further down the corridor, their helmets also removed. "Some African dialects use the same sounds!"

Angela hadn't even heard them come in, and now she looked on in surprise as Luigi demonstrated by talking and clicking most strangely. She had never doubted Luigi's ability, but now she suddenly feared that he would steal this moment from her. As the alien switched his gaze and repeated his phrase even more agitatedly to Luigi, Angela turned to Scott.

"Scott! Get me a pen and some paper!"

Scott nodded, stuck his gun in his upturned helmet and launched himself towards a locker. In a few seconds he had retrieved a large black felt tip pen and a note book. He threw them towards her with a gentle movement.

"Find out what he's trying to tell us, Angela!"

Angela caught the slow moving pen and notepad. "I'm trying my best, Scott!"

"You're doing great!" he told her.

Angela held out the pen and notepad and turned back to the alien. The alien was still trying to get Luigi to understand while Luigi was still trying to figure out just a few words as he attempted to talk back. It was too soon, and the alien was too agitated. The time for talking, for 'Me Jane, you Tarzan' would be much later, when the alien was calm and there was no danger and no fear. Now they just had to get the messages across, and there was a much better way.

"Here! Here!" Angela called, getting the alien's attention. As soon as his eyes swiveled towards her, she wrote a bold line on one of the blank pages of the notepad.

The alien's reaction was instant. With a kick of his legs he darted forward, snatched the pen and notepad from Angela, and stared at them for a moment. To everyone's surprise he then tossed the notepad aside and began drawing on the wall instead.

There was now silence in the Intrepid as everyone moved forward and watched the alien draw. Even Carl had taken off his helmet now, his gun forgotten in his hand. The fear element seemed to have gone. Only Lucy stared at the alien with wide eyes, both her hands at her mouth.

Angela watched in fascination as the alien drew boldly on the wall in quick fluid movements. There was no disorientation from cryogenic sleep here, no fuzziness or sluggish movements. The alien was alive, awake and very focussed. It was also the first time since they had first made contact that he wasn't shouting at them. But his drawing was already telling them more than his words had done.

The alien drew the derelict spaceship. The irregular but circular shape was quite clear. He then drew a line towards it that finished in another saucer shape that was butted up to the first shape.

Luigi whispered, "His ship, docking with this one..."

The alien drew lines coming from his own ship going into the derelict.

"They went aboard."

Lucy whispered through her fingers, "Shut up, Luigi! We don't need the commentary!"

The alien was now drawing four figures above his first drawing. They were matchstick men, as simple and the same as any drawn by a child. Simple but clear. They each had a helmet around their circular heads. He now drew a line from three of the figures that went back to his spaceship. The remaining figure he circled. Now he turned to them, made a fist, and beat his chest once.

"Nac- " snap, " -tikmak!"

Angela smiled. "That's his name!" she exclaimed. Then she repeated it with a clap of her hands. "Nack," clap, "Tickmack!"

The alien raised his hands in triumph. "Do ant pac!" Snap.

Scott had mixed feelings. "So we know his name. And we know he was the one that stayed behind. But we still don't know why."

Luigi said, "Give him time, Capitan! He is a single man among strange aliens! How would you cope?"

It was nice to hear Luigi call the alien a 'man'. Angela realised that at some moment only a short time before, the alien had changed from being an alien creature never before seen by man, to becoming a fellow traveller trapped aboard the same ship. They could have all been human. English, American, Spanish, fellow travellers with a language barrier but with a common threat hanging over them. Even Lucy looked less fearful. Curiosity had now set in. Curiosity and a burning desire to know what had happened.

Nac Ticmak had turned back to the wall and was drawing lines going from his own ship back to the derelict. He drew lots of them in big, bold strokes. Then he suddenly stopped, turned to them, and stretched out his hands. With a sucking noise made through his half open beak, he drew his clenched hands towards his chest. He repeated it twice more, then went back to drawing the bold lines on the wall.

Carl turned to Scott. "That ship is drawing power from the Intrepid!"

Scott didn't want to believe it. "It must have power of it's own!" He pointed to Nac Ticmak who was now watching their debate. "This guy wouldn't be alive if there wasn't! And there's gravity in there! We felt it!"

"Exactly! But everything else is off! No lights, nothing! What power it has left it keeps for the essentials, and after all these years, that can't be very much! For all we know, the gravity might have only come on after we docked!"

"What if there's a nuclear reactor in that engine room? Or something even more advanced? Something must have closed those bulkhead doors!"

"Yes, a thousand years ago! Or maybe two thousand years! We don't really know how long this ship has been out here! No, Scott! Like a fridge door, it all came on when we opened it! We've got to get clear. That's what he's trying to tell us!"

Scott shook his head. "There's no possible way power could be drained from our main batteries into that ship!"

Lucy said, "Through the hull. It's the only circuit. And everything electrical aboard the Intrepid is earthed through the hull."

There was an unpleasent silence as they all floated about staring at one another. Nac Ticmak tapped on his drawing on the wall with his pen. It seemed to stir Jonathan to speak.

"Why don't we check?"

It was the obvious thing to do. They all piled forward to the flight deck, drifting and pushing themselves along. Nac Ticmak was left behind. He reached out and grabbed Scott's discarded helmet as it floated nearby. He reached inside and pulled out the gun. He held it close to his face as he turned it over, examining it. Finally he dropped it, leaving it to spin away as he darted after the humans.

On the flight deck, Carl was checking all the gauges while Scott interrogated the on board computer.

Carl was saying, "Everything looks fine here. Air pressure, fuel, oxygen, all as we left it. What are you getting?"

Scott tapped away on the keyboard and the monitor was suddenly filled with a large graph. The wriggly line ran halfway across the screen in a very shallow descent only to suddenly plumet over a precipice.

"Oh, glory...." Lucy exclaimed in dismay.

Scott didn't waste any more time. "Buckle up! We're leaving!" He was fastening himself into his seat even as he spoke.

Luigi looked at him in horror. "What about all my treasures? Surely you will give me time to retrieve them?"

"And there's the EPD," Jonathan pointed out.

"Bugger them!" Scott exclaimed. "We're leaving, and we're leaving now!"

Angela glanced at Nac Ticmak. "What about Nack Tickmack?"

Scott hardly looked at her. "What do you suggest we do? Boot him out?"

Everyone was now strapping themselves into their seats. Only Angela was left pondering. With sudden determination, she grabbed Nac Tikmak and pulled him towards her own seat. He immediately started to protest, waving his arms about.

"Nap ut lop kit- " snap, " -macka saptuk!"

He broke free from Angela's grip and darted towards the wall. He began to draw again.

Luigi looked round. "It's what he was saying before! It must be important!"

Scott fired up the engines. "Carl! Seal the airlock! I'm going to give her thirty percent on the starboard thrusters for five seconds!"

Carl flicked some switches. "Airlock sealed!"

Lucy was also now looking round at Nac Ticmak, watching him draw a much larger version of the derelict spaceship on the wall of the flightdeck.

"It's not going to work!" she said.

The Intrepid began to vibrate, but the view of Jupiter and the irregular shaped hull of the derelict through the flightdeck window never moved.

Scott altered the settings on the controls in front of him. "I'm going to give her fifty percent!"

Lucy began to undo her belt. "It won't work, Scott!"

Scott wasn't listening. The noise of the engines increased and now the vibration turned into a throb. It was violent but brief, and when it was over they were still docked to the derelict.

Lucy now pushed herself clear of her seat and moved towards Scott. "Stop it! You're wasting power for nothing! It's not going to work! We know it won't! All you're going to do is damage the ship!"

Scott let go of the controls and the engines died.

There was now silence, silence broken only by everyone's rapid breathing.

Scott looked deflated. He put his hands over his face in despair.

"I'm sorry. I panicked. We've got twenty-eight minutes left and only sixty percent power in the batteries. We have to get clear or we'll never make it home alive."

Lucy patted him on the shoulders and he held on to her hand. It was a simple gesture that caused Angela a certain amount of pain. But there were other more pressing problems to think about.

Jonathan asked the question that was in Angela's mind.

"Why can't we get free?"

Lucy turned to him. "It must be the result of the power drain. Like magnetism. So long as the power is flowing through the hull and into that ship, we're stuck."

Luigi asked, "What are we going to do?"

Carl nodded towards Nac Tikmak. "We've got to switch that off."

Everyone turned to look. Nac Tikmak had drawn a large and intricate diagram of the derelict ship. Their own ship was now represented by a short cylinder stuck to the side of it. A line ran from their ship through a square box that was obviously the cabin they had searched, down a curved channel that was clearly the corridor, and into another square box. Inside this square box was a hexagon. They all knew what that was. The line went round the hexagon and into another square box. In here were two matchstick figures lying head to head. The line went through the middle of them and into a final, much larger square box. On the far side of this square box were several rectangles drawn stuck together. The line went to one of these rectangles. It was a small one at the bottom right hand corner. Nac Tikmak tapped it with his pen, and as everyone stared at the drawing, Carl continued.

"That's it. That's the gizmo. That's what we have to switch off before we can get clear."

Angela looked at Nac Tikmak in confusion. "But how does he know?"

Jonathan said, "Isn't it obvious?"

Angela turned to stare at him. But it was Carl that answered her.

"This hasn't happened twice before, Angela. It's happened four times before. And each time someone has had to stay behind to switch off this gizmo. There must be some sort of defense mechanism in there to protect it, and two of them got hit by it, but two of them didn't. But they were still left behind. Their crewmates couldn't wait for them, you see. They had to undock as soon as the gizmo was switched off or else it would have been reactivated. That meant they were stranded. Stranded with only two alternatives: Run out of air and die, or use one of the cryogenic chambers and wait for the next fly."

End of Part II. Part III next month.

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