Down Under and Over There
by Bill Kowaleski
Table of Contents|
parts 1, 2, 3 4
Later, when Cindy finally had time to phone Sean in Australia, she told him all about her short adventure on Sirius Prime. But calling him mid-morning Wisconsin time hadn’t been ideal.
“Hey, babe,” Sean mumbled. “It’s the middle of the night. This better be important.”
“Oh, yeah. Forgot about the time difference. But Ger and I just got back from your home yesterday.”
“Oh, okay. Yeah, I want to hear about that.”
“It was so unreal! As soon as we walked through that transporter, I felt like I was Alice going down the rabbit hole.”
Sean chuckled. “It’s a bit of change from this planet, isn’t it?”
“No kidding! So we come out of that swirling black tornado into a little shed. Ger pushes open a very short door, and it’s like, WOW! Everything is weird. The sky is PINK — Ger called it magenta — and the sun — no, SUNS, two of them! — are blue. There’s some kind of grass, but it was like cat fur and it was more yellow than green.”
“It’s not a grass at all,” said Sean. “More like a moss.”
Cindy was on a roll now and just kept going. “And there are these incredible mountains in the distance, like gigantic towers of dark blue pushing into that pink sky.”
“Ger says, ‘No time to lose, follow me.’
“So, yeah, we gotta get back before that Seth wakes up and comes after us, but I still wanted to see everything. Our plan had been to spend a few days, but now, because of that slimy SDE agent, we had to rush. If he caught us here, Ger said, he’d have the right to hold us for days while they decided what to do with our product.
“Ger’s best guess was that they’d steal it, trump up some charges, and imprison us to cut us out of the whole operation. We were gonna see the ten-kilometer pink waterfall, take a trip to the pleasure moon, and go to the park where you could live your dreams like they’re real. But now all that was out. Well, maybe next time.”
“Ger’s right, babe,” said Sean. “SDE wants its cut of everything that flows on and off the planet.”
“I’m so glad Ger’s helping us, Sean! But anyway, he leads me toward a tall white wall. I thought we were going to run into it but right as we reach it, it just opens up. We walk through and we’re suddenly on a city street.
“It was something like the time you took me to Chicago and we walked on Michigan Avenue at lunchtime, but most everyone’s a Sirian, the buildings are just a little too low, and the stores, if you want to call them that, are very odd, full of strange things I could see through the WALLS, because they were all completely transparent. I keep stopping to look, and Ger keeps grabbing my hand and saying, ‘No time! No time!’”
“That transparent building material is mined on Arcturus Proxima,” said Sean.
“Okay,” said Cindy. “Whatever. Anyway, there’s no street, just a wide sidewalk with those transparent buildings on both sides. Then I happen to look up, and there right above us are all kinds of strange metal vehicles zooming around, none of them making a sound. I stop again, but Ger pulls me into a little alley where the buildings are opaque.
“We walk through another wall. He tells me to stand still. Walls jump up around us, then they turn a dull red and hum, then they disappear. Ger says it’s like an elevator. Now we’re in a corridor. We walk right down to the end and there, sitting in a small room, is a Sirian surrounded by equipment that looks like something from a sci-fi movie. Ger and the Sirian touch palms and twitter in Sirian, then Ger points to my bag.
‘The chemist says he just needs the sample with the strongest kick and a sample that doesn’t have any effect.’”
“Now it’s getting interesting,” said Sean. “All that other stuff was just a routine stroll on Sirius Prime.”
“Hey, maybe routine to you! Pretty strange to me.”
“Okay, Cindy, sorry. So tell me, what did the chemist determine?”
“He pours a few drops of each sample in a machine. We wait a minute or so, and then a screen pops up out of nowhere with funny squiggles all over it.
“Ger leans over the chemist’s shoulder, reads, then turns to me and says, ‘The sample that didn’t work is a synthetic; they’ve produced the scent chemical without even using eucalyptus oil. That other sample is a complete extract, concentrated but otherwise unprocessed. The test indicates only a two percent probability of long-term harm’.”
Sean let go a whoop that forced Cindy to hold the phone at arm’s length.
“You’re gonna blow out my eardrums, Sean!” she shouted at the speaker.
“Sorry, babe. This is great news!”
“That’s what Ger said. But no time to celebrate, we gotta rush. Thank heavens nothing slowed us down when we ran back to the transporter. We step back into the cabin’s living room with only a minute to spare, but there’s nobody there.”
“What happened to Seth?” asked Sean.
“Well, that’s when it gets even more interesting.”
* * *
Cindy and Gerry quickly searched the cabin, but it was empty. Outside, Gustafson’s Tahoe was gone.
“He must have taken Seth somewhere,” said Gerry. “Let’s go to the station.”
At the city municipal building, a simple structure that served as police station, city hall, and post office, they found no one but Deputy Jim Walsh sitting at his desk playing computer solitaire.
“Last I heard, Ollie was at Sean and Cindy’s cabin,” said Walsh. “You say he’s not there?”
Just then the radio crackled. “Go ahead, Ollie,” said Walsh.
“Need assistance, Jim. Got a belligerent citizen here. Mile marker 5 south on DK.”
“On my way,” said Walsh. He sprang to his feet and ran for the door.
“Let’s follow him,” said Gerry. “I got a feeling I know who this belligerent citizen is.”
They sped past the cabin in Gerry’s Superduty, the huge winter tires humming loudly. Three more miles south, the Tahoe came into view around a curve. Walsh was just stepping out of his Explorer. Gerry pulled to the side of the road about a hundred feet farther back.
As he and Cindy walked cautiously toward Gustafson’s Tahoe, the area immediately behind it gradually came into view. There they saw Gustafson standing, braced against the vehicle door, holding a gun pointed at Seth, who stood at the edge of the forest, his hands waving. With each step his words became clearer.
“No right to detain me. An agent of SDE has been assaulted with a chemical weapon! It is my duty to return and report this at once!”
Then Seth saw Cindy and Gerry approaching.
“There! There is the perpetrator!” he pointed at Cindy. “You are under arrest. You will return with me to Sirius Prime to face charges!”
Gustafson shook his head slowly. “Nobody’s goin’ anywhere. You got zero authority here, big man. So just shut your trap and calm down.”
As Gerry Andersson came abreast of the Tahoe, he touched Gustafson’s shoulder and said, “Let me handle this, Sheriff.”
Gerry walked slowly toward Seth, stopping when he was just more than an arm’s length away.
Cindy stood motionless behind the Tahoe, staring first at Seth, then at Gustafson, and finally at Gerry. “Well, I sure did make a mess of things, didn’t I?” she said.
Gerry smiled. “On the contrary, I think that maybe you’ve killed two birds with one stone.”
Gerry turned to Gustafson and asked, “So what happened? How did you guys end up out here, three miles south of the cabin?”
“He started coming out of it,” said Gustafson as he holstered his weapon. “And man was he pissed! I had to pull my gun to keep him from using that transporter. I decided I had to get him out of there, so I took him for a little ride. But right here, when I was preoccupied navigating the curve, he threw open the door and rolled out. Tough little bastard!”
Gerry turned to Seth and said to him, “Be honest with me: how did you feel when she put that ‘chemical weapon’ under your nose?”
“It’s hard to describe,” said Seth, “but all I want to do now is snort some more of it.”
Gerry’s laugh was long and hearty. “Yeah, I thought so. What were you really going to do?”
“I wanted to know what that stuff is. If it’s an undiscovered product of Earth, imagine the fortune I could make back home with it. I had to get her to Sirius Prime and, if I arrested her, I could mind probe her and find out what it is and where to get it. Looks like that’s not an option now.”
“How about you work with us instead? We’ll supply the product and you distribute it on Sirius Prime. I just had it analyzed. It’s not harmful. By our law, that means it cannot be made illegal.”
“Why not just do it all yourselves?” asked Seth. “Why incur the cost of a middleman?”
“You know the answer to that. As soon as we set foot in your jurisdiction, you’ll make it impossible for us to do business until we do cut you in. Might as well just cut to the chase.”
Now it was Seth’s turn to smile. “Well, you know how SDE works all too well, Semerkhet. But why should I be surprised? You’ve always been a step ahead of us.”
“And one more thing, Seth. No deal unless your Commander calls off the posse hunting that oak smuggler. You see, he’s the one who’s going to supply you with this new stuff.”
Seth nodded. “I should have known. Once I brief Commander Inmohotep, he’ll want an assurance that the oak smuggling stops. Give him that, and he’ll make sure that Inkohatum’s name is expunged from the criminal fugitive database. I have no doubt he’ll do that. The Commander has a keen commercial instinct.”
“We call Inkohatum ‘Sean’ here on Earth. So you knew all along that he was the smuggler?”
“Of course! We were the ones who dealt with him! He shipped logs to those SDE agents that Gustafson met. A lot of us knew about that.”
“But not Commander Inmohotep?”
“No. He’s kind of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ type, if you know what I mean.”
Seth’s comment provoked smiles on all the humans’ faces.
“Did I say something funny?” asked Seth.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Gustafson. “So you’re going to focus on this eucalyptus stuff now, Seth? We can drop the whole donut thing?”
“No, no!” Seth’s face betrayed alarm. “The Commander could become very unco-operative if we don’t deliver him those donuts. You probably will laugh at this, but on Sirius Prime donuts from Earth are regarded as highly as a rare French burgundy is here.”
Gustafson scratched his moustache and sighed. “Okay, then. We’re back to scrounging up some financing.”
“Why is that?” asked Gerry. “Why make them yourselves? Just buy them in bulk from one of the—”
“We’ve been through that,” said Gustafson. “It doesn’t work.”
“Why not? You buy them, resell them to SDE, and they take care of Sirian distribution. What you got then is an interplanetary supply chain!”
“But would they be as good as Brad’s donuts?”
“I’d take a Dunkin’ over Brad’s greasy junk any day!” said Cindy.
“We’ll have to test these ‘Dunkin’, as you call them,” said Seth. “But assuming they’re comparable, I’m good with this plan. Let’s go back and find Nefertu. I need to get her thoughts on this.”
* * *
Darkness had fallen when Gustafson, Gerry, Cindy, and Seth entered the Tall Timber. It was packed, with Bob Seger on the jukebox, most of the dining tables occupied, and the bar shoulder-to-shoulder. A hand waved to them from the far corner of the bar, the darkest place in the pine-paneled, oak-floored establishment. They worked their way over to see Brad Olsen sitting on a barstool, Nefertu wrapped around him like a blanket.
Cindy smiled and held out her hand. “Hey, honey, I’m Cindy. And you are?”
Nefertu planted a wet kiss on Brad’s lips then turned, looked at Cindy’s hand and touched it, palm-to-palm, Sirian style.
“And one of them,” Cindy said. “I can tell by the handshake. You know what you’re dealing with there, Brad?”
“Oh yeah, but she’s kinda all over me, and right now I’m just going with the flow.”
Cindy turned to Gustafson. “Looks like your matchmaking plans are up in smoke, Ollie.”
Gustafson chuckled and said, “Well, you worked it out another way, Cindy. You managed to reform Sean after all.”
“Hey!” Brad said. “Nefertu promises that she’s gonna take me on a tour of the seven wonders of the galaxy. She’s the woman I was telling you about, Ollie, the one I’ve been looking for!”
“I’m happy for you, Brad,” said Cindy. “Because I know how great it is to find the one you’ve been looking for.
Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski