by Darren Goossens | 3,658 words
Simon put the phone down on the kitchen bench. Liza’s voice continued, now murmuring into the laminex. He stared across the messy kitchen at the bare sheet rock of the living room wall. Five years since construction and still unpainted. The only thing he finished in five years was his marriage.
He grunted, grabbed a beer from the fridge, and went into the living room, picking up the phone as he went.
“Really?” he said.
Liza continued to talk.
Though it was the digital age, Simon walked to the television, turned it on, and adjusted the rabbit-ears for the best picture possible. He flipped through the channels before selecting something called ‘Nazi Engineering Monstrosities.’
“Uh huh,” he said into the phone.
He twisted the lid off his beer and dropped it between the couch cushions. It clinked against other lids. He took a swig from the bottle.
He heard a bang and, halfway through swallowing, jerked his head around. He managed to avoid spraying beer on the pizza boxes on the coffee table. Should he investigate? Of course he should. Would he?
“Sorry, Lize. I just heard a noise in the back yard. Could be… I dunno, but I better go look. Bye.”
He levered himself out of the couch and headed for the back door. He grabbed the garage door remote on his way out.
By the moonlight he saw that his garage roof had changed shape. Simon pressed the button that opened the door, expecting to see his half-restored Hillman Imp, which had been sitting on blocks for about four years. Instead he found a small blue man holding a spanner. Then Simon looked up and noticed the silver apparatus that had punched a hole in the roof of the shed and got lodged in the rafters. It looked like a spider made of giant bicycle pumps had been screwed to a refrigerator. Imp components lay scattered across the concrete floor.
“What are you doing?” blurted Simon.
The alien waved a small golden box in Simon’s direction and shook it imperiously.
“What?” said Simon.
The alien pointed at the garage floor.
“What is that supposed to mean?” said Simon. “’Down?’ ’Floor?’ ’Kneel before me Earthling scum?’”
The alien pointed at the roof.
“Yes, it’s a new sculpture I’m working on. Or maybe it’s your spaceship.”
The alien pointed again. Simon gave in.
And it went on.
“Door. Wall. Shoe. Golf club. Girlie calendar. One two three four five six seven eight nine ten. Twenty. Don’t patronize me. Rock. Very old sandwich. Yellow. Green. Red. A sort of greenish-black.”
The alien pressed a button on the golden box, and then tucked it into a pocket on his chest.
“Look, what’s going on?”
“Translator recognizes your language! Must be in database.”
“What are you doing with my Imp?”
“I looking for fuses,” said the alien in a fuzzy, high pitched voice. He wore blue overalls with a multitude of lumpy pockets. His hairless head sat atop a scrawny body. He had a snub nose and a mouth like a short, broad beak.
“You picked the wrong car. The Imp has no fuses.”
The one thing Simon did know about was electrical systems. He had spent five years working as a repairman at a hole-in-the-wall electronics shop back when he was studying. Back when people actually bothered to get things repaired instead of throwing them away and buying new ones.
“Maybe I use nail.”
“I’d recommend against that. I tried it once and still have the burn marks. What’s wrong with your spaceship?”
“I see. That’s very… concise.”
Wary, Simon went deeper into the garage. The ruins of the Imp dismayed him for a moment. He shrugged. As he got closer to the blue alien he saw that the spanner had strange patterns marked on its surface and seemed to be more than an ordinary shifter — some kind of Alien Supershifter. Maybe a weapon. A laser or something. As casually as possible he looked up at the device embedded in the roof. He could see a door and some shining innards amidst the tangle of telescopic legs. Bent spars and brackets splayed in all directions. The problem was much worse than a blown fuse.
He turned around and almost stepped on the alien, who leapt backwards and waved the spanner at him.
“Clod!” he said. “Where your ladder?”
“Leaning against the back of the shed.”
“Go get it yourself.”
The alien waved the spanner at Simon. Without thinking Simon snatched it away. With considerable will power, he refrained from banging the alien on the head with it.
“Hey! This is an ordinary spanner.” Aside from a few apparently decorative painted marks, it really did look like an ordinary spanner.
“What? Alien not allowed to bluff?” The alien snatched at the tool indignantly. Simon held it out of his reach.
Simon waved the spanner. “What do you want here?”
The alien folded his arms and compressed his beaky lips.
“I’ll use this!” Simon hefted the spanner.
“It only spanner.”
“It can still crack your skull.”
“I want fix ship.”
They stood beneath the ship. Simon put a hand in his pocket and pressed the button on his remote. The roller door rumbled its way to the ground.
“Why did you come to Earth?”
The alien paused. “Hoping for interaction with other intelligences. Disappointed.”
“Hey — you crashed into my garage, you enormous intelligence.”
A new expression, probably alien for intransigent, settled on the visitor’s face. He said some words in a language Simon did not understand. Then he said: “I try, mister. But you not help. Now have no choice.”
He pulled a small spiked disc out of one of his many pockets and threw it at Simon. A sharp edge jabbed into Simon’s leg through his jeans. The leg collapsed, then the whole right side of his body. Then his consciousness.
* * *
When Simon woke up and climbed, slightly woozy, to his feet, the ladder was in the shed. The alien looked angry and had a lump on his head.
“You fix my ship, you live long life, else, very short. And get you own ladder next time.”
“How familiar are you with Earth technology? Your ship is way-” Simon clammed up. Would this guy kill him if he couldn’t do the job? Better to keep the admission of ignorance as an option for later on. Ignorance, real or feigned, had always been a major component of Simon’s arsenal.
The alien gestured at the parts of the dismembered Imp. “I see you fix own vessel.”
“Yyeesss…” Simon had not actually fixed the Imp. He had bought a lot of tools. He liked buying tools. Buying them, unpacking them, reading the instructions, painting tool-shaped black shadows on his tool rack and hanging the tools in place. It really gave him a sense of accomplishment.
“Excellent. You know about tachyon thruster and imaginary-time drive.”
Simon tried not to look blank. “Um. Yes, I think they were options on the 1967 models. Only on the GT though.”
The alien took this at face value.
Simon looked up at the spacecraft. He went to get the ladder from where the alien had dropped it. He noticed a drag on his feet.
“Hey, you’ve tied me up!” A thin cord ran from his ankle to one of the steel I-beams spaced along the walls of the garage. “That’s a bit primitive. I would have expected a force field or something.”
“Old Ang-Kwek saying: ‘Never use energies capable of shattering very fabric of space-time when piece of string will do’. Of course, it special string — no use trying to cut.”
Trailing the cord, Simon climbed the ladder and looked at the underside of the vessel. He saw bent stanchions and braces — he could probably bend them back into shape — and several foreign devices. Splintered fragments of some crystalline material showed through cracks in their casings. No way could he fix those. He opened a large hatch and poked his head into a small space tightly packed with enigmatic machinery. He found a clip and loosened it. That allowed him to push open a further hatch above his head. When he pushed his torso through, he found himself in a small space topped by a plastic dome. One small seat poked up in front of him and a second lay horizontal on the folded hatch. So an alien spaceship was like a crummy old van: you lifted up the seat to get at the mechanicals. Unless, of course, it sat conveniently in someone’s rafters.
In front of the first seat he saw a green translucent box about the size of a beer cooler. Something black moved inside, apparently swimming in a bath of liquid. Behind the second seat he found a grey box with a picture of the craft on it, but in the picture the craft was damaged, with a big cartoon crack running down its middle. A thick ribbon of wires came out of the box and ended in a ragged fan of metal, plastic, and glass. All the controls looked intact; a lit-up display on the pilot’s console suggested that the vessel still had power. He wondered why the alien didn’t radio for help.
In a pocket on the back of the folded-up seat he found a thick sheet of plastic about the size of a sheet of paper. He slid it out. One side was blank. On the other he found nothing but a small red circle. He put a thumb in the circle and almost dropped the plastic as it lit up. He saw a cartoon picture of a small figure with three upper arms but only two legs; plainly not the same species as the pilot. The figure moved across the sheet to a simple shape that looked like the vessel. The figure removed a panel on the front of the space ship and rummaged inside. Then the little movie stopped as a series of strange symbols scrolled across the plastic page. The object gave a series of squeaks, incomprehensible words, and a strange vibrating feeling that might have been infrasonic. A multi-language owner’s manual? Simon touched the last row of symbols, hoping it was alien for ‘none of the above’. A cartoon picture of the craft appeared, and a huge cartoon finger (with too many knuckles) poked on a part of the ship, which then got magnified and shown in an animated cutaway diagram.
Simon reached into the pocket a second time and found a black cylinder the size of a small screwdriver. He pushed a stud on it and a screwdriver bit popped out, though the tip was neither slotted nor Philips. He pushed again and the bit vanished, to be replaced by a second bit. And so on through a series of tools, some obvious and some obscure in purpose. He closed it and dropped it in his jeans pocket.
Holding the manual, Simon climbed down.
“Weeeeelllllll,” he said, shaking his head. He cupped his chin. “It’s done a few miles, hasn’t it?”
“I not had time to get it serviced!”
Simon tried to nod sympathetically and yet judgmentally, as he had seen so many mechanics do over the years.
“It’s going to take me quite a while.”
He turned to the manual and prodded the picture of the cockpit, then pointed to the space behind the seat, then to the grey box. Meaningless symbols scrolled in a column down one side of the screen. Simon pressed on the picture of a broken craft, same as on the box itself. The scene shifted; he saw the craft spear into the side of a hill and the cockpit dome crack open. Then a wavy line extended out of the grey box, out of the craft, and across space. The image followed the line to a blue ball, presumably a planet, where a narrow building with a logo on the side received the signal. A second craft then rose from a hatch in the top of the tall building and sped along the wavy line to the rescue. Interplanetary RACV, he thought. And they would not be coming. Simon pushed on the picture of the little grey box. The casing vanished and he saw cryptic components, none of which made any sense. He saw where the power came in, that was all.
Simon chanced a look out the corner of his eye. The alien did not seem to be watching closely. Simon tensed. With it still in his trouser pocket he pressed the garage door opener. He sprinted for the door as soon as he heard the electric motor start grinding. He made a dive for the bottom of the door.
Putting a hole in his plans, the door failed to open. Then the forgotten cord stretched tight and almost tore his leg off, but not in time to prevent his face from thundering into the corrugated iron door. Blurrily, he saw a padlock just a couple of inches from his nose.
The alien said: “Saw it on bench while you were in ship.”
Dizzily, Simon hauled himself onto his elbows. He said: “Old saying, ‘Never use space-time — uh — bending forces when a padlock will do’?”
“No,” the alien emitted a buzzing sound that must have been a laugh. “Other old Ang-Kwek saying: ‘Never give sucker even break.’” The alien’s face changed, hardening. From a pocket on his chest he pulled a small silver rod about six inches long, with a small ball on the end. “This translate as ‘agony stick’. Please do not try to run away again.”
The alien waved the stick at Simon. Simon arched his back in appropriate agony and cried out. His left side melted and burned at the same time. With a sickening squelching noise he convulsively bit down on his tongue, mashing the back corner of it between his molars. The taste of blood filled his mouth, mixing with the acid coming up from his stomach.
“Stop it!” he screamed, spraying blood and curling up in the dust on the floor.
“Sorry, sorry, button stuck. There!”
But Simon did not hear. Unhelpfully, he passed out.
* * *
Simon came to slowly, as if some part of his brain knew that any news would be bad news. Bright lights swam at the periphery of his vision. His mouth ached.
He lurched to his feet and swayed to his workbench, looking blearily at the racked tools. He shifted his weight to accommodate his sore ankle. He had selected the cordless drill and his crimping pliers before he heard:
“Simon, what’s going on?”
Still woozy, he turned around to see Liza, immobilized by the latest in extraterrestrial technology, namely gaffer tape around ankles and wrists. She sat stiffly in a lawnchair, and she did not look happy. The latter was a nice touch of normalcy.
Simon felt like he knocked off half a bottle of brandy. Between the spiked wheel and the alien taser, neither of which would be tuned for human physiology, his own circuits had been scrambled temporarily. It was the only way he could explain what happened next, for he turned to the alien and said:
“You should have put some tape over her mouth.”
She growled. The alien took a step back. Simon noticed that the little fellow now had two lumps on his head.
“How did she get you?”
The alien pointed to a misshapen black bag in the corner of the garage. “That thing.”
Simon nodded. “With her laptop, huh? She swings a bag like it’s a martial art. And, you know, she’ll hold you responsible for any missing data.”
“Can believe it.”
Liza looked from one to the other. “Simon!” she hissed.
“Sorry, Lize. Introductions. Lize, Alien Oppressor; Alien Oppressor, Liza Pankle-Worley.”
“Pankhurst!” She did not look daggers at Simon. Cutlasses, maybe, or Challenger Tanks.
Simon gave her a smile and a vague wave. “You two oppressors ought to get to know each other.” Right now, at least in his brain, there were no consequences. He looked up at the space ship and clucked his tongue — then winced. “Now, what seems to be the problem?”
“You fix ship, you not be dead.”
Liza guffawed. “Fix it? Him? He couldn’t fix a one horse race. He’s never finished a project in his life!”
Simon made throat-cutting motions. He could not afford to have the alien doubt him now. Nodding knowledgeably, he tucked the manual under his arm. With the drill in one hand, the crimping pliers slotted in his shirt pocket, and the alien screwdriver in his trousers, he reached for the ladder.
“I go first,” said the alien, climbing up.
The little fellow had some difficulty with the spacing of the rungs but eventually made it to the cockpit, where he watched Simon through the hatchway under the seat.
Simon climbed the ladder but, once through the first hatch, he crawled to the side and tucked himself in the innards of the craft, amongst struts and cables and large silvery ovoids. He drilled holes, scraped his knuckles, made connections, pricked his fingers, crimped new terminals onto wires, squashed his thumb, reshaped the terminals until they would fit the alien sockets, and banged his head into a broken bracket. Then he spent an hour prodding ineffectively at some minor structural members and tying off a few loose wires.
He climbed down. The alien looked at him through the upper hatch. “I try it now?”
“If you like. It won’t work. I’ll need a… frannistan, a wongler and a depolarated knurl. I’ll have to order them in. Could take weeks.”
The alien clambered down the ladder, making a very slow job of it because he insisted on using one hand to hold the agony stick.
“You liar. You keep fixing or…” he gestured at Liza, as though slicing her in half.
The phrase ‘go ahead, make my day’ popped into Simon’s head. He forced himself to be serious “Watch out, Lize. That thing hurts.”
Liza could not hide her fear. Simon almost regretted his careless banter. Presumably his neurons were settling down.
“Okay, okay, I’ll get back on the job.”
He had just crossed to the ladder when the garage door imploded.
Lights. Buzzing noises. The alien yelled something. Simon leapt to one side, bounced off a rack of pressed metal shelves and came to a halt crouching, with one hand shading his eyes and the other on the floor to aid his balance. Still bound, Liza had at least refrained from any such pointless maneuver.
Squinting into the bright lights, Simon could make out two figures. Each had an extra arm and a square torso. The larger one came forward and pointed some kind of tubular object at the alien, who shrank back from it and then found himself covered in a sticky green net.
“Lousy mechanics!” he screamed as the three-armed police officer dragged him away. “Can’t trust mechanic! Knurl! Knurl!”
The second figure came forward, wearing a blue and gold uniform. It climbed the ladder with three-armed rapidity and returned with the green box from inside the spaceship. It spoke in a deep liquid voice, but with similar grammar to the small blue alien.
“Greetings. Apologies for inconvenience. Many thanks for you assistance.”
It turned to go.
“Wait!” said Simon, finally rising to his feet and coming forward. “What’s going on? I know he’s some kind of crook.”
“Ergat here stole prototype multilingual translator, four classified weapons, and next Emperor of the Fifty-Seven Suns.”
“Fifty-sixth emperor’s heir is in larval stage.”
The blocky figure nodded. “Now, we must go. Regret, must take away our technology. But will not wipe you memory — will save much cleaning up. As thank for you help.”
The figure walked away, and soon there came a roaring sound as if a hovercraft were taking off. With a clamor of grinding, creaking and scratching, the spacecraft vanished from Simon’s rafters, leaving a ragged gash in the roof. A cold wind curled in through the hole. Stars flecked the blackest of night skies.
He looked at Liza. She seemed too stunned to know what to say. He tried to enjoy the moment. Then he knelt and unwound the tape from her feet and arms. She stood up and rubbed her hands.
“About time. Did I really see that?”
“Where are the kids?”
“Staying at a friend’s house. You’d know if you listened on the phone. They’re probably watching animated movies more realistic than that.”
As if banality would make everything seem normal again, she said: “I came over to borrow your sander. I’ve bought a new kitchen table and…”
A few of Simon’s synapses must have been disoriented even now. At least, that was what he told himself afterwards, for he swept her into his arms and gave her the biggest, deepest, wettest kiss in years.
She stepped back but did not complain.
He said: “Am I your hero?”
“Hero,” her eyes narrowed in a too-familiar way. “I don’t know.”
“But here we are, alive!”
“Yes. It was lucky those alien police came along.”
“Luck?” Frustration washed over him, flowing through well-worn channels. “Hell, I drilled through a bulkhead and fed power into his emergency crash beacon from a patch cable. I hacked alien hardware, for Chrissakes!”
“Really?” He looked for sarcasm but failed to find it.
She patted his shoulder. “What about all this….” she gestured to include the mess in the shed.
He smiled broadly. “I’ll get a new shed. I’ll get a new everything. I’ll get the kids a new everything too!”
In response to the question in her eyes he crossed to the rack of shelves and picked up a thick rectangle of plastic. Its surface showed nothing but a single red circle.
“I wonder what Lockheed-Martin would pay for this.”
— — — — —
Darren Goosens © 2013
— — — — —
About the Author
Darren has published short fiction in Aurealis, Andromeda Spaceways, and All Hallows, and some magazines that do not begin with ‘a’. His cartoons have appeared in NFG magazine (defunct, not his fault) and a Physics textbook. Apart from ‘Unfinished Projects’ his most recent work appeared in the Journal of Magnetism and Magnetic Materials, and is hopefully not fiction…