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Gem




Gem





It was late evening and Adam and his mom were playing backgammon in his bedroom when a brilliant beam of light blared through the window and a loud clanking sound cracked the night. Adam raced to the window.


“Mom, it’s a spaceship!”


Elizabeth Straub peered over her son’s shoulder to the front lawn and saw the oval spaceship with fumes emanating from the open shaft of its underbelly. The ship’s doors slowly slid wide and what looked like a man walked out. He was six-foot-two-inches tall, broad shouldered with sandy-blond hair, and a handlebar mustache. He was wearing a black priest’s shirt with white tab collar, jeans, ten-gallon cowboy Stetson hat and brown boots. He was holding a large wrench in his left hand and an unfiltered cigarette in his right. He blew smoke from his nostrils, cussed loudly, and banged the wrench against the ship’s hull. 


“Adam, should we call the police?”


“For what? He hasn’t committed a crime. Besides, they’ll think we’re crazy. Let’s just talk to him.”


They walked out of the house and onto the lawn next to the ship. Unsure of what to say to an alien, Adam thought it best to keep things simple. He said, “Hi, I’m Adam.”


The alien puffed his cigarette, took off his cowboy hat, held it at his chest, nodded, and smiled. With a thick good ‘ole boy West Texas drawl he said, “Howdy, son. Name’s Gemini Beam Lee. Friends caw me Gem.”


Elizabeth Straub said with her everything-you-say-is-so-interesting voice, “Well, hello Gem. My, you're handsome. My name’s Elizabeth, but you can all me Liz.”


Adam winced. His mother was constantly and aggressively on the prowl for her next boyfriend.

With an easy charm, Gem smiled and said, “Well Liz, apologize for landin’ my ship on your yard, but dang thing just conked out on me. Will have her fixed and out of your beautiful hair in no time.”


Liz said in her most demure voice, “Oh, take your time. Do you need some help? My son’s a wiz with mechanics.”


“Much obliged,” Gem said. He smiled, handed Adam what looked like a giant five-foot wrench and said, “Here son, hold this gosh darn nanotech. I’m fixin’ tuh work on this engine.”

Gem got on his back and crawled under his spaceship.


Adam looked at the wrench device which was as tall as he was and said, “Why‘s it called a nanotech?”


“Son, these days ev'thangs a nanotech … nanotech this, nanotech that. Soon every sci-fi short story’s goanna be ‘bout nanotech. Nanotech goanna be the next space opera. Man alive, then you can’t even win you no Hugo Award if you ain’t got no nanotech. Last time I was at the 7-11 by planet Alpha Centauri 9, I bought me some Tic Tacs and sho’ nuff, they were called Nano Tacs.”

Adam said, “I don’t understand.”


Gem rambled while working on the ship, “See, the thang that gets me is that they were regular size Tic Tacs. Don’t they’ve got tuh be really small before you caw them Nano Tacs.”

Gem opened a valve releasing gas into the muggy night air. The engine hissed and ceased clanging. 


“… this frazzlin’ thang,” Gem muttered.


Liz asked, “What happened to your spaceship?”


“Well the Siri voice on my iPhone gave me the wrong directions, so I got lost. Then, I entered Earth’s atmosphere at a bad angle and busted up my ship pretty darn good.”


Adam said, “You’ve got an iPhone on your spaceship?”


“Son, they’ve iPhones everywhere. It’s a universal device.”


Gem muttered profanities under his breath, puffed on his cigarette and fought the engine. “Son, do you know how tuh get tuh a place called Reno? It’s in a place, I think, your people caw it NV.”


Adam nodded, “Nevada, yes. My grandparents live in Reno.”


“Well, I’m shepherding a parish there and going there this weekend tuh meet the congregants. If you can gimme directions I’d be much obliged.”


Looking for the next Mr. Right in all the wrong places, Liz said, “Mr. Jimmy Dean, we’d be glad to give you directions.”


Adam rolled his eyes and said, “Mom! His name’s Gemini Beam. Jimmy Dean’s the guy who sells sausages on TV.”

Liz gasped, “Adam! I’m just being friendly.” 


Adam shook his head and said nothing. Last week, his mother got hopelessly lost on the way to his school’s PTA meeting. The only place his mother could give directions to is the local Harris Teeter, where she bought her scotch. 


Elizabeth persisted, “Mr. James Dean, I don’t see a wedding ring on your finger, I guess, these days men prefer wedding bands.”


Gem banged his fist against the ship and cursed again. He said, “… no-account sorry excuse of an engine ... apologies. Well ma'am, I don’t have a wife for religious reasons.”

Elizabeth said with a disappointed tone, “Religion? What kind of religion have they got on your planet? Scientology? The religion of the stars?”

“No, ma'am. I’m Catholic.”


Gem motioned for the wrench. Adam handed it over and said, “Catholic? They’ve got Catholics in space?”


“Yup, it’s a universal religion. Where I come from, we’ve a joke: When Neal Armstron’ landed on the moon - sho’ nuff, there was a catholic priest, over yonder, offered him holy communion.”

Gem inserted the wrench into the open shaft and said, “It’s just a joke. Actually, Catholic missionaries planted a parish on the moon three hundred years before Armstron’ arrived. Eventually, all members of the church became atheists or evangelical Christians, which to a Catholic are about the same. The church was converted into a bed and breakfast by a Sikh gentleman. By the time Armstron’ landed on the moon, there was an Indian storeowner offerin’ him British high tea. Indians, by the way, are the other universal people. Any place you go, you find ‘em.”


Liz interjected, “So, do you date only Catholics? Or inter-denominationally?”


Adam said, exasperated, “Mom, he’s wearing a priest’s collar. He doesn’t date.” 


Liz smiled sheepishly, and said, “Well, that seems a bit rigid. Son, me and Jimmy are adults and adults have needs.”


Through tight lips Adam replied, “Mom, I’m twelve. I don’t want to know about your needs.”

Changing the subject, Adam asked, “So Gem, how come you're moving to this new church in Reno?”


Gem puffed on his cigarette and said, “The current priest just left, and the church’s located on a ranch. So, they need someone who can minister tuh the ranchin’ community and that would be me.”


Adam asked, “Why did the previous priest leave the church?”


“He’s a young guy - a fish outta water in Reno. He was raised in Los Angeles and was in a techno-pop boy band before joining the church. Bless his heart. He’s one of those ‘music will heal the world’ types, and so, at the church he performed a rendition of Amazing Grace set tuh the music of Skrillex.”


Adam said, “Wow!”


“Yessir, wow is right. Who would have thought that country ranchers who drove tuh church in pickup trucks with gunracks would have a problem with that?”


Adam said, “Yes, I guess. Also, hasn’t Skrillex seen his best days?”


Gem yanked the wrench from the shaft and said, “That’s what the ranchers said. They told the priest that Skrillex’s only meaningful album was Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites and that was back in 2012. 2013’s Bangarang was too commercial and 2017’s Purple Lamborghini was derivative. The ranchers told him that if he wanted tuh do a contemporary version of Amazing Grace, he might could do no better than the version by Alan Jackson or the version by Soweto Gospel Choir.”


“Soweto - my favorite,” Adam said.


Gem nodded, “Mine, too.”


“So, what did the young priest do?” Adam asked.


“He left town – sightin’ creative differences. He started a techno-punk band called Saints after Satan, and they hit the road. You can see where that went wrong, right? The title was a little confusin’ and attracted the wrong crowd. He performed at a biker rally for bikers who were Satanists. The bikers was expectin’ him to perform speed-metal, while they dropped acid. Instead, the priest performed Barbra Streisand I’m a Woman in Love set tuh the techno beats of Fedka The Irritant.”


“Wow!” said Adam.


“Yessir, wow. Sho’ nuff, the bikers had a conniption and hit him in the head so hard he’d more memory problems than Jason Borne.”


“Wow!” said Adam.


“Yessir, wow. Mr. Jason-Borne-without-the-fighting-skills was all tuckered out. After the beating, he might could barely perform. He sounded worse than David Hasselhoff singin’ Jump in my Car. So, of course, he’s huge in Germany.”


“Huge?” said Adam.

“Sold more albums than Herbert Grönemeyer and David Hasselhoff put together.” 


“And now that he’s gone, that’s where you come in?” Adam inquired.


“Yup! The diocese felt the country church needed a country priest. Me, I come from the farm. Family’s been farmers and ranchers on the moons of Nebula-11 seven generations back. So, they gave me the job, right quick. Me, I was born tuh do this. Sooner or later, I was going tuh find my way to this church in Reno and after that Boca Raton, Florida.”


“Why Boca?”


“My mom’s one sixteenth Jewish. So, when I retire, by Talmudic law, I‘ve tuh move tuh Boca.”

“How did you become a priest?” Adam asked.


“Well, in my family, only religion we had was cowboy, so I wasn’t raised in the church. When I was in high school, local Catholic charity organized a country fair tuh raise funds tuh buy jet packs for the altar boys. Which in hindsight was a bad idea, ‘cuz it helped the altar boys leave the church even faster. I got a job at one of the booths as a musician. I fancied myself a rural hip-hop artist, and I sang Tupac's Tell Daddy How You Want It set tuh the country guitar stylings of Merle Travis.”


“Were you any good?”


“I was worse than David Hasselhoff singin’ Country Roads. Anyways, someone spiked the punch and the altar boys got drunk, put on the jet packs on display, and flew ‘round the fair fightin’ everyone. Needless tuh say, it was pandemonium. I got in the middle of the fight, slapped the altar boys ‘round while they was mid-flight, and got ‘em all tuckered out, took their jet packs, and made them sit down. Thankful for my help, the nuns hired me as a church musician.

“So, I attended church once a week and played the country guitar version of Ave Maria. Lookin’ back at it, I sounded like I fell off the turnip truck. But the Catholics were nice tuh me. I did that job for years, and at the end of each service, the nuns would tell me I did a good job and how happy they were tuh have me in the church.”


“See, the family I come from, we’re corn-fed mountain people; we’re rough and tumble. We’re strong, take care of ourselves, pay little attention tuh one another and are proud of it. I’d never met anyone that was nice tuh me and, the nuns were nice tuh me for years. I don’t know. I reckon, one day, I just believed. Few years later, I joined the priesthood.”


Liz said, “That’s a sweet story, Gem. Is there something we can do to help you fix your spaceship?”

Gem crawled out from underneath the ship. He dusted off his clothes and put on his hat. He looked at Elizabeth and smiled, “No, Liz. Ship’s fixed. Got-r-done.”


Adam said, “Really, did the nanotech work?”


“Nuh, I never could figure out how that contraption works. I just used duct tape.”

“Duct tape?” Adam asked.


“Yup, duct tape. It universal; it works on ev'thang.”


Gem tipped his hat and looked at Liz, “Well ma'am, it was nice meeting you.”

Liz smiled and said, “Oh! you too. You’re welcome to join us for dinner anytime, Gem. I make an excellent chicken piccata.”


Adam shook his head, “Mom, you don’t cook, and we get our chicken piccata from The Cheesecake Factory.”


Gem shrugged, “No problem, ma'am. I don’t make my own beer, but I do enjoy drinkin’ it. I’m sure someday I’ll enjoy your chicken piccata. But for now, unfortunately, I got tuh leave.”

Adam shook Gem’s hand and said, “Goodbye, Gem.”


“Goodbye, son. Be nice tuh your mother.”


Gem climbed into his spaceship, and as the doors closed he tipped his hat, nodded, and said, “I know you’re thinkin’ there’s a plot hole. I asked for direction to Reno because I’m lost, and I’m leaving town without them. Don’t worry. Instead of using Google maps on my iPhone, this time I’m using Waze. Y ’all be good.”



Saket Badola


  .

My short story “The Tech” was published in Fiction on The Web.

I am a computer programmer, working on statistical analysis for clinical trials of investigational oncology compounds. I live in Maryland with my family.




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1 Comments

  1. What a great story! Creative, humorous and clever! I love that Indians are everywhere and iPhones, Google and Waze are pervasive, even in Space, how clever!

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