Prose Header

An Interstellar Tryst

by Bertil Falk

The whirling sound of Symphonie singulière slowed while body and mind settled down from a journey that, if understood, would have been considered one taken at breakneck speed.

Although the transportation had been as instantaneous as possible, the strain of the distance covered also showed that there was a limit to the ability of bilocation. Billie Occasion had almost overstretched that ability as she plunged into the void of space to reach the starship. She was creaking at the edges of her very being.

As the shadow of the symphony left her mind and sank back into her apartment far, far away in a bygone age, where it belonged, she become aware of a slight headache. She saw nothing. She was blind. It took another fraction of a second for her to realize that her eyes were closed. She opened them.

The outlines of a slim figure materialized in the muted light and subdued silence, both of which were gradually enhanced. Billie Occasion faced a woman whose ethnic appearance was that of a new variety of homo sapiens, obviously the result of being cut off from mankind on Earth for generations. But for how many?

The woman’s bluish hue had a smooth, fluorescent quality, and even though she was not a telepath, it was as if she had read Billie’s thoughts.

“As you can see we have changed over time,” she said. “Welcome to the Carolus Rex, Billie Occasion. We were not sure when you would arrive, but for the past three thousand years we have been expecting you, and the whole population of more than two million people has been prepared to greet you and take care of you. Luckily you dropped straight into my abode.”

“When are we?”

Anno Domini 25,323 on board the generation ship Carolus Rex launched some centuries after your death. Destination Alpha Centauri B. In that sense you’ve arrived too early. We will not reach our goal for centuries. It doesn’t matter. We can’t live there. We will continue our search.

“But travelling through space inside this glorious ship is as good as living on a planet. We have everything we want. I’ll take you to the hanging gardens and the hydroponic fields later on.

“The ship is really something, when you think of it, but we are so accustomed to it that we never think of it. It is an oblong asteroid that was made hollow in the distant past. It took 79 years to create its many layers and prepare all the landscapes on the different levels. Its length is 1,582 kilometers, and crosswise it is 499 kilometers at its widest.”

“After my death, well...”

“Which took place on Earth in that legendary apartment called 503 Fifth Avenue. It disappeared in the deluge of A.D. 2226, but then you were already long dead. But you are here, right now, a long time after your death. The rules of existence are intricate, aren’t they? Sometimes I get angry at Einstein and Bohr. My name is Sigourney Nagy.”

Bille Occasion had listened carefully, nodded and said: “Pleased to meet you, Sigourney Nagy.”

“You are welcome. Our starship is only one out of at least 201 that were planned and launched. The Carolus Rex is actually one of the smaller space colonies. In a way your timing is perfect, for we are right now experiencing a very exciting encounter, like ships that pass in the depth of night. A tryst never before experienced; yes, a spatial rendezvous beyond human experience. But more about that later.” Sigourney Nagy’s hue got even bluer.

“I must say,” Sigourney continued, “that you look better in that outfit than on the picture in the Intergalactic Dictionary. It was Easter when you left Earth, and you were definitely dressed for the occasion in that yellow outfit with that yellow safety pin famously penetrating the left side of your chin. Let’s have some food. You must be hungry.”

The sight-seeing was overwhelming. Sigourney Nagy took Billie to the level of rainforests that covered 174,000 square miles, and Billie Occasion learned that almost all of the 25 levels covered that same area. After the levels of the hydroponic fields and the hanging gardens, Billie was allocated an apartment, where she fell asleep.

The next day, Sigourney and Billie had breakfast at the ocean level with its islands and isles and rocks and grottoes. Fishermen went out to catch whatever they caught for a living, exactly as the fishermen had done in Billie Occasion’s childhood village of Lewes, in Delaware.

After swimming, she was taken to the Hall of Fame, where a portrait of Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle presided like an altar surrounded by portraits of John Desmond Bernal, Walter Kubilius, Edmond Hamilton, Harry Martinson and Mae Jemison plus a lot of people Bilie Occasion had never heard of.

Over a cup of excellent coffee in the cafteria, Sigourney Nagy leaned forward as if she was going to whisper a secret. “We have made contact with an alien starship. We will pass each other at a distance of 73 light-seconds later this year, but it is already visible.”

“Made contact? How...?”

“When you left Earth, there were primitive translation devices. They have been developed to the point where you and I can talk. Over the 23,000 years since we began our voyage those devices have been perfected. Our language has changed enormously, but through the devices we can even communicate with animals and vegetables. It’s a boring pursuit, but some people do it for a living.”

Billie Occasion thought of her catastrophic attempt to bilocate into the mind of an octopus called Edward. She did not say anything.

Sigourney said, “Today you and Edward could easily discuss the topic of eight-legged culture.”

“How did you know?”

“The Galactic Encyclopedia has the whole story.”

Of course.

And yes, the alien thing was visible. In an observatory at the surface of the Carolus Rex the foreign starship was magnified on an enormous 3D screen. At first it looked like a sphere, but Billie soon realized it was enormously slim and oblong, most probably a space vehicle constructed like a worm or a snake.

Its enormity dawned on her when Sigourney Nagy told her that the vehicle was as long as 1.2 light-seconds or the distance between the Earth and the Moon. What kind of civilization could have built such a monster ship? It made Carolus Rex look like an interstellar bicycle.

The people of the observatory were in the process of telling the alien spokesman... spokesperson... spokesindividual... whatever... about the Carolus Rex and its goal to find a place to live or to travel forever as it had done over the past 23,000 years.

Kaori Kida, the woman in charge of the contact, said that the one she talked to seemed to be disappointed when she told her or him — she was not sure of the individual’s gender, if any — that the Carolus Rex had 2.3 million inhabitants. The alien also seemed reluctant to tell her how big the population was on board that other starship. And it did not say what its objective was.

“We suspect that we are talking with a person who is not authorized to speak and says as little as possible,” Kaori Kida surmised.

The whole thing was astounding, not to say bewildering. Hardly had Billie Occasion digested the enormity of the Carolus Rex, when this much more fantastic phenomenon on an even grander scale turned up. Were they dealing with a young individual who had overstepped his rights by talking to aliens? Could that be the answer? No, she didn’t think so. She had a suspicion.

* * *

When Billie was alone in her apartment, she sat down and relaxed. She closed her eyes and covered her tear glands by putting the thumb and the forefinger of her left hand over the root of her nose.

Halfway she was halted. The alien had felt her groping in its mind and caused a tryst between them midway, where they came to an understanding.

And now it was Billie Occasion who listened as the alien opened its mind and confirmed her suspicion. They talked for a long time and Biliie Occasion tried to comfort her extraterrestrial counterpart.

The next day she went alone to the observatory and met Kaori Kida. “I know the answer,” she said. “Your assumption that you were in touch with a young individual is true. “It is a young man, perhaps a million years old, but in his context he is very young. He is alone and his goal in life is to find a girlfriend. That’s why he is disappointed.”

“You mean that he is alone in that big starship?”

“When he first saw the Carolus Rex, he thought he had reached his goal, but when he got to know that our ship has 2.3 million inhabitants, he knew he was wrong.”

“About 600,000 women... Wouldn’t that be enough? Or is that young man so different from us?”

“He certainly is. He thought the Carolus Rex was the goal of his dreams.”

Kaori Kida gasped. “Do you mean that—”

“Yes, he is a young boy, but he is 1.2 light-seconds long. What you thought was a starship is he, himself.”

Copyright © 2013 by Bertil Falk

Proceed to Challenge 542...

Home Page