Stranded in a Foreign Land
Chapter 4: Technologies Old and New
Copyright© 2014 by Vincent Berg
Sounding the horn as they arrived, the front door flew open and Francis and Melissa, Josh's sister and mother, came running out. It had been a long day and the sun had set some time ago. It had taken Josh and his friends a long time to move the capsule, even with assistance, and they'd taken their time returning, not wanting to risk getting stopped for being careless.
The sky, which had been threatening to fall all day, finally opened up and they had driven through a downpour on the way home, making Josh worry about his patients being exposed to the chills of the cold rain. But once again there wasn't really anything he could do about it.
"How'd it go?" Melissa asked, her concern showing in her eyes as she held an umbrella for her son.
"You might as well forget the umbrella," Josh answered, ignoring both it and his mother's attempt to shelter him. "We're going to be moving around and there's no way you can hope to keep us dry. But it went fine. We've got another couple of individuals to help. What about ... our first patient?" Josh asked, still being oblique when referring to it, even though he knew there was really no need to be.
"Janet is looking after her," Fran answered, crowding him so much she and her mother's umbrellas kept getting into each other's way. "She wanted to come out and check on whoever you brought back, but I told her she'd do better having everything prepared when you finally got them inside."
"That makes sense," Josh said, wiping the rain out of his eyes. The fact they were nearly as wet as he was proved Josh's point. "The guys and I will move them in. Mom, can you run in and get us a wheelbarrow we can use to carry them. It may not be pretty, but it should work better than a makeshift stretcher. Francis, run downstairs and rummage through Mom's old things and see if you can dig out her old Walkman as well as a couple of spare cassette tapes. I want to make some non-digital recordings."
"I think the only cassettes left are Mom's favorites, and I'm sure the batteries on the old Walkman are dead, if it even works anymore."
"Don't worry about my—"
"If all we do is erase some old worn out tapes, I'll buy her a replacement CD," Josh shouted as he unfastened the stays holding the tarp sheltering the truck's bed. "But this is important. It's too easy to track digital communications."
"Go on, honey," Melissa told her eldest. She indicated the mysterious shapes which Cindy was wrestling with under the tarp in the back of Josh's truck. "He's right, the old tapes are unimportant compared to everything else." With that the two of them ran off, though Francis kept glancing back, trying to get a peek at whatever they'd brought back with them.
"Fred, Peter, come on," Josh said, waving them over. "Mom's getting something to help carry the heavy one, so let's grab the new one first. But don't take it into the house yet," he instructed as he helped pull back the tarp, exposing them to the elements.
Peter, lighter and more wiry than the others, hopped into the bed of the truck. He and Cynthia lifted the odd bird-lizard creature and lowered it into Josh and Fred's arms. The two of them hurried off, trying to get it out of the wind and rain as quickly as possible while Peter and Cynthia got its heavier companion ready.
"Right here is fine," Josh instructed when they reached the covered porch.
"Wouldn't the swing be better?" Fred asked, concern etched in his eyes.
"No, it's probably unused to the structure and our gravity, and the swing is unlikely to match its physique. I'm afraid it might take a nasty tumble if we do."
"Right, it's probably better here then," Fred answered, settling it down as gently as he could. It didn't look very good. Despite the green of its scales remaining bright, almost iridescent, they were sloughing off, and the sweat mixed with rainwater pouring off of it made it difficult to hold without dropping.
Melissa had the wheelbarrow ready when they returned. This time it took Peter, Cynthia and Melissa together to lift the being from the truck bed, and they had to fight to keep from dropping it as they hurriedly lowered it into Josh and Fred's arms. The twosome lowered it into the wheelbarrow in more of a controlled fall than a delicate maneuver. Once there, Fred grabbed the handles and struggled to get the wheelbarrow moving. Only it wasn't to be since it seemed to be stuck fast.
Josh used two hands to lift the front of the wheelbarrow, taking the weight off the single wheel. Cynthia and Melissa leapt from the truck, grabbing the sides and lifting them as well. That got it moving, and Fred powered it forward, angling his body and muscling through the mud.
"What about the steps?" Fred yelled in order to be heard over the blowing rain. It had slacked off, but the rain continued and the steady wind seemed to sweep their voices away.
"Back it up the steps," Josh yelled back. "With the three of us pushing it you shouldn't have too much trouble."
"Somehow I doubt I'll have an easy time doing anything with this thing. It's pretty damn heavy!" Fred responded, once again having to reestablish his grip on the handles as the mixture of rain and sweat threatened to wrest it from his grasp. This was harder than transporting a full load of fifty-pound sandbags.
They managed to get it up the incline of the stairs just as Josh had envisioned, but it took their combined strength to get the overstressed tire to bounce over the steep lip of each step. Watching the sickly creature, Cynthia and Melissa felt for how uncomfortable it must be with the rain blowing in its face as it shivered in the bottom of the rapidly filling wheelbarrow, but it was too ill to be concerned with such Earthly cares.
They each took in the other creature lying curling up into itself as they passed, its many limbs sticking out at odd angles. Melissa noted with alarm that its limbs appeared badly broken as they bent at impossible angles. But after looking again she realized they were arranged like bird legs, bending behind them rather than in front, even though nothing about the animal besides its beak looked anything like a bird.
"I got it, Josh." Fran held the door open as they carried their heavy load into the house. "Give me a second and I'll get some fresh batteries," she continued as she proceeded to dig through a kitchen cabinet drawer.
"Don't worry. We need to rest," he told her, panting as they finally let the wheelbarrow down. "Man is this ... thing heavy!"
Janet stuck her head out to see what was going on, glancing at the decrepit looking creature in the crude makeshift gurney. She held the doorframe as she glanced over her shoulder at its companion.
"Where are we putting them?" Melissa asked.
"I'm not sure we have much of a choice," Josh responded. "There's no way we can get this sucker upstairs. Let's put this one with the other in Mom's bed. We'll put the other in there too for now, but once we get them settled we'll make other arrangements. I'm guessing we'll have to leave the heavier ones downstairs and distribute the others either upstairs or down in the basement."
"How many different kinds do you suppose there are?" Cynthia asked as she wiped the wet hair from her face.
"I have no idea," Josh responded, glancing at the distance between them and his mother's bedroom, trying to guestimate how much trouble it would take to get it there. As he spoke, Peter and Fred carried in its lighter companion which Melissa wiped dry with an old dishtowel. "Francis, turn the Walkman on and put it in the room before we take them in. I'm trying to catch their response."
"You don't want me to capture a better quality video with my smartphone?" Janet asked, reaching in her pocket to extract it.
"Absolutely not! I don't want any digital records of any of this. A cassette tape can be easily burned, but there's no way to erase the memory on those damn phones, and it's way too easy to dump their contents or intercept it during a transmission. Frankly, you should all power them down until we get these things out of the house. They're just too dangerous."
Janet considered that, then walked forward and deposited it on the kitchen table after taking the time to shut it down. "Done," she announced. "Do you need help moving that one?"
"Nah," Josh replied while indicating to the others it was time to finish the trip, seeing Fran taking the Walkman into the bedroom. "We've worked out a system."
"Some system," Cynthia groused. "We take a bunch of quick steps, hoping we don't drop it on its head!"
"Shh!" Josh insisted with a sly smile. "No talking allowed, you've got to save your strength for the heavy lifting."
They quickly transported their invalid ward into the room. Its companion awkwardly sat up as they entered, gazing at the figure in the wheelbarrow, no doubt trying to identify who it was, but it was too obscured by other bodies and the viewing angle was wrong. Josh counted to three and they all lifted the thing and slung it onto the bed with a resounding thump as the first alien's eyes lit up in recognition.
It spoke excitedly in a jumbled gibberish of clicks, barks, high musical notes and vibrations too low for Josh and the others to make out. The others recognized why Josh had insisted on recording it, as it would give them something to work with when trying to decipher what it was saying, but they held little hope of being able to crack what it meant.
The first creature spoke for some time to the second, despite how weak the new addition was. Its companion, though, was still too weak to say more than a few short phrases in return. Their conversation went on for a few minutes before it finally wound down. Finally the first alien turned to Josh. It seemed to bow slightly to him and lifted its left arm, making some obscure gesture much like its other companion did.
But Josh merely held up a single finger before backing out the door, motioning the others to follow him as Janet got busy trying to see if there was anything she could do for her new ward. She used a towel to pat it dry while its bedmate helped it remove its uniform. Janet knew there was no way they could possibly lift it enough to get it under the covers, figuring they'd have to throw yet another blanket over it instead.
When the others carried the bird-lizard-man in, their first rescue again started chittering, but this time it was more a collection of singsong clicks and whistles. How one creature could vary its vocal responses was beyond any explanation Josh could fathom, so he just listened as they carried the much lighter patient in and settled it onto the bed.
Janet was about to respond to the vast difference between the two creatures when she remembered Josh's admonition, so she bit her tongue. The contrast between the bottom heavy crab like creature with multiple limbs and multiple sides and the extremely tall and gangly humanoid creature whose face was decorated with a huge hard beak and odd green scaly skin was striking.
Once again, when they finished talking to each other the first creature seemed to beckon Josh forward, clearly distinguishing him from the others. As he approached, it again made the same motion, which Josh assumed was some form of honorific. However, he stopped before getting too close.
"Me," he said, pointing at himself. "Human." The creature seemed curious, though it rotated its head rather than tilting it like a human would, almost as if it needed to look away the speaker in order to fathom their strange message.
He repeated the two simple words and the creature struggled to repeat the foreign sounds. It wasn't very successful, but it was clear it was attempting to duplicate the words.
Josh simply shook his head, pointed at himself again and said, "Me, human," before pointing at it and saying, "You, alien".
The creature rotated its head in the other direction for a moment, and then turned to look at him again. Touching its own chest, it said something which sounded like "Szwickthrick," followed by a short bark.
Josh responded trying to imitate the bark. The creature's face creased with an odd adaptation on a smile before repeating the bark, trying to do the short sound as slowly as possible. Josh did slightly better the next time. Once he was happy he'd gotten close, he pointed at the other heavy crab like creature. When the first rescue repeated the short bark, they knew it was the term for the species, not a proper name.
Josh then pointed at the lizard beaked thing, and it responded with a short whistle-click, which it took Josh about five tries before be made a passable bad interpretation. Finally Josh pulled out a notepad he'd picked up in the kitchen. He sat down beside the aliens and proceeded to draw a series of images; first a circle, then a square, a crude sun complete with fiery corona and finally a cloud. For each image the creature rotated its head slightly and then responded with a different sound, which Josh attempted to duplicate. However, it was clear the creature was weakening, so Josh halted the lessons. They learned a tiny amount of the language the creatures spoke, but it was only a rudimentary scratching of only the surface and they didn't stand much chance of actually communicating with them.
As Josh was ushering everyone from the room, the green lizard creature struggled to sit up, leaning on its slim trembling arm and made a whistling barking sound. As Josh turned around, surprised, it made a 'come hither' motion. When Josh approached, it rapidly waved its hand and then pointed at Josh's.
It took Josh a moment, but he quickly figured out it meant his pad. Approaching again, he handed it the pad and his pencil.
Taking the pencil as if it was designed for its hand, it quickly repeated each of Josh's images and scribbled some gibberish by each. Though its hands were too shaky to draw a straight line, it was clear it was supplying him with the written form of each response. However, it too was too weak to continue for long, so after going through Josh's short list of images, it fell back on the bed in exhaustion. Josh picked up the pencil and pad and quietly left, motioning to his sister to look after them.
"Wow, you've gotten the world's first intergalactic signature," Cynthia teased, although the admiration in her eyes was genuine. "I'm sure if you could get that put onto a guitar it would raise some nice money on eBay!"
"It's the first step in a long journey, one I'm not sure any of us will ever see to its completion, but we've got to try." Josh crossed to the refrigerator and started searching for food, his exhaustion and hunger making themselves apparent now that the necessary tasks were out of the way. Melissa grabbed some dishes out of the oven and tossed them into the microwave, quickly reheating enough food for the four hungry teenagers, but it was apparent they were too tired to accomplish much more than that.
"Do you want to spend the night?" Melissa asked as they attacked the food, worried about their driving home while exhausted.
"Actually, I don't think I'm quite as wiped out as Josh," Peter responded, jittering with birdlike excitement. "Frankly I'm not sure I could sit still long enough to sleep. I think I'll drive home just so my parents don't worry."
"What about the rest of you?" Melissa asked, gazing meaningfully at each of them.
Cynthia looked doubtful and glanced at Josh and his mother before responding. "Actually, I've been excited all day, so I could definitely stand to sleep. If you don't mind I can either sleep on a spare cot or on the floor."
"Don't worry," Melissa responded. "We'll find you somewhere to sleep. Though if you keep showing up with additional houseguests I don't know how much longer I can promise that. What about you, Fred?"
"Actually, I wouldn't mind returning home but it's too long of a drive," Fred said, glancing at Josh's mother with a playful yet pitiful expression.
"Alright, you can stay too. After all, you all look so worn out I doubt you'll cause me much trouble."
"Peter, we'll want to get started early tomorrow morning," Josh said. "We'll meet you at the Jack-In-The-Box at, uh... , how about ten and we'll schedule where we go from there."
"Sounds good, but that's not early in the morning" Peter corrected him as he stuffed a couple last minute bites in his mouth.
"I remembered I've got something to do in the morning which might take some time," Josh explained, "so you can catch a little extra sleep."
"Good, he's going to need it," Melissa insisted, still hovering over the kids and worrying about them as only a mother can.
"Thanks for the food, Mrs. Evens," Peter said as he pushed himself away from the table. "I appreciate it, but I'm sure my mother probably left something for me at home as well."
"Well, take some biscuits at least," she said, piling him down with food. As he took off, Josh glanced at the others and realized they weren't quite prepared for what had happened, either the work, or in his case the stress. He'd have to find a more systematic way of approaching this in the future. Today was a pretty light day, given the number of rescues he was hoping to achieve in the next several days. He hoped they were able to handle what he planned to put them through. After all, the longer these aliens were left to their devices and those of whoever found them, the greater the chance of the storm outside turning into a giant shit-storm which would envelop not just them and their friends and family, but this whole section of the country.
Josh awoke well before dawn, as he usually did. After dressing he headed downstairs, but peeked in on their three alien patients before grabbing something to eat. He saw his sister Janet still fretting over one of them. When she saw him, she hurriedly waved him over.
"What the hell are you doing?" he whispered, glancing at the figures on the bed. "Did you sleep at all last night?"
"I tried, but every time I started getting up or drifting off, this one, Barbara, would demand your note pad. She wrote all of these for you." Janet handed him a stack of papers holding a variety of rough sketches and scribbled notes in a foreign script.
"Barbara?" Josh asked, intrigued as he leafed through the pages.
"Yeah," Janet laughed gently, glancing at the creature beside her as if afraid she might overhear. "When she said who—or what—she was, the closest it sounded to anything we know was 'Stanwyck', so I started calling her Barbara after the Ziegfield girl from the old movies."
"Only someone brought up in the country with marginal signal coverage would even know who Barbara Stanwyck is," Josh teased with an affectionate grin, as he'd watched the same old movies. "Well, if she's happy with it, I guess it's as good a name as any since we haven't been able to figure out what her real name is," Josh replied, still studying the various notes.
Barbara opened her eyes, perhaps hearing Josh's voice. Observed him, she leaned up and made a beckoning gesture. Stepping closer, Josh laid the notes aside and leaned over.