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First Impressions

by Catfish Russ

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

They climbed aboard the USS Charon, sealed the hatch and stole a hug from each other. Exhausted, he poured a drink while the shuttle departed for Washington. They changed into comfortable clothes and checked for communiqués.

“There’s one from the Council, Bart,” Riser said. “He just wants you to call him as soon as the meeting is over.”

“What’s that smell?” Kempler sniffed and followed it to a spare bedroom/storage room. There a yellowish goo was leaking out of the crates. He used a coathanger to pry open the top. Sherry looked over his shoulder: “Oh my God, that is disgusting. The Proconsul stored the remains of that poor pear-being, as a gift.”

“OK,” Kempler said, and downed the rest of the scotch. “Call the Council Chief Madame Hsu,” he barked into the air.

The comm came on, Council Chief Hsu appeared. “Well, hello, Mr. President and Ms. Riser. How did it go?”

“They are disgusting, self-absorbed beings. How did they get so powerful?” Kempler said.

“Well, I take it then that it went very well. Ms. Riser? Your opinion, if I may ask?”

Riser pulled her heels off and tossed them into a corner. Significantly shorter, she faced the image of Madam Hsu floating in air.

“You know I will always defer to the President in matters such as this. My opinion has no place in interstellar relations. That said, they are disgusting giant stinkbugs that dress like clowns and spend most of their time and energy in showy displays. I can only imagine the size of the 216 ego. My guess is that beings like these would be very very difficult.”

After a moment of silence, Madam, Hsu spoke: “Thanks Ms. Riser. Just for your information, Mister President, we saw two 216 technicians struggling to get their jump drive working. One of them contacted an engineering crew from the Tien Hong space station.”

“Contacted the Chinese space station engineers? For what?”

“To help them get their jump drive working.”

“You are kidding me.”

“I am not kidding you. I am forwarding the recordings in your briefing box.”

“When did this happen?”

“Sixteen hours ago was the first contact, and while you were at the 216 show with Ms. Riser, the 216 engineers contacted International Space Station Two and asked for help reinstalling their engine.”

“So they’re going to be our neighbors for a while,” Sherry Riser offered.

“Maybe it’s a ruse. An excuse to occupy our space. I don’t like this at all,” Kempler said.

Hsu replied, “What if they really don’t know how to work their machines?”

“Their ship is mostly a solar sail,” Kempler said. “I’m guessing that it’s the first stage engine that builds the initial inertial momentum that they are struggling with. We have enough technology to at least give them a push. What scares me is that they might be using technology they didn’t invent.”

“Seems unlikely,” Madam Hsu said. “The ships I hear are perfectly matched to them. They are ergonomically designed for the 216ers.”

“What do you want me to do?” Kempler pulled cufflinks off of his sleeves and put them into a small andesite tchotchke box that Sherry had brought back from the Andes.

“The Friend has some ideas.” Hsu was referring to an intelligent machine built to help the U.S. navigate political scenarios. “We’d like to meet tomorrow. Keep in mind, that people are clamoring over the networks for more footage and live interviews. Everyone with a connection wants to look into the zoo cage and see the monsters. This is huge. Every industrialist wants the material the ship is made from, the technology, everything there is a potential goldmine. So the fact is that the world doesn’t really want them to leave.”

“Yet,” Riser said.

Touché,” Madam Hsu riposted.

“OK Madame,” Kempler said. “Thank you.”

Her image vanished. The comm shut down, Kempler poured a couple of brandies and they sat and sipped in silence, staring out the window at the Earth. Later, the couple snuggled under sheets.

Suddenly Kempler threw off his sheets and headed into the bathroom. “I have an idea,” he yelled behind him.

“I’ll be right out,” Kempler said as he slipped into the bathroom’s walk-in closet accommodations.

She heard shuffling noises. Like he was going through clothes. After about ten minutes Riser hollered, “You okay, honey? What are you doing?”

“One minute,” he replied.

Kempler emerged from the closet wearing a curtain hanger on his shoulders, and draped over the curtain hangar was an oversized, bright red kimono. He had put on his hat and wrapped his head in a bright blue sweater, which teetered.

On his feet were her high heels, glittery and red.

“Oh my God, you are a NUT,” she guffawed.

Kempler spread his legs out in a horseback stance and swayed left and right and shouted a tune:

The President he likes us, we are so amazing.
He is very impressed is he not?
He is very impressed is he hot?

“Brilliant,” Riser shouted and clapped. Pleased with his improv, he shed his costume and jumped into bed.

“That was awesome,” Riser hugged him. “That was truly funny.”

They settled and watched the curvature of the Earth through the window. They were passing over Africa.

Spooning under the covers, she asked him, “What now?”

“I am so disappointed that our first contact has been with beings that I see as vainglorious opportunists. I expected the pioneers of space travel would be more like heroes and less like U.S. legislators. The irony is that after centuries of imagining what other beings would be like, they probably all end up like our relatives. People we wouldn’t be hanging out with if someone had not died.”

He laughed. He hugged her. He squeezed her hand. “I hate our new neighbors. I can’t go on.”

Riser let the silence sit in the room. “So you’re not going to file for re-election?”

“No. I am not. In fact, I am not going to be President anymore, starting tomorrow.”

She turned to him. “Wow. You’re kidding me. This could scare people if you quit right after meeting the 216ers, Bart.”

“I’m afraid there is a lot more than the 216ers to be afraid of. The point is, I have no heart for this anymore. I want to live my life with the people I love. Let’s move back to New York,” he added.

“And sell the camp house in Virginia? Never go to Kennebunkport again? Honey, you should just think about it. I mean in New York you won’t be able to camp. You won’t be outdoors, which you love. You won’t be able to light a campfire and look up and see a crowd of stars and imagine who is up there.”

“That’s the point,” he said, pulling covers over both of them. “That’s the whole point.”

Copyright © 2013 by Catfish Russ

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