Writers' Rock!

  

Writers’ Rock!

 

  

It’s 4AM, I’ve got nearly fifty missed calls, and now I’m hearing the whoosh-whoosh sound of helicopter blades and a loud thumping on the front door.

I stumble out of bed and knock over my laptop, much to the chagrin of the latest, unfinished science fiction yarn populating the screen, cursor flashing, begging me to feed it more words.

I open the door.

“What the heck is this? Don’t you know what time it is?”

The young man in uniform standing on the porch stands at attention and snaps a sharp salute.

 “I’m Lt. McKinley, sir! General Agarwal has requested your presence, ay-sap!”

 He hands me a cup of coffee.

 “Tell the general to email me in the morning,” I say, still half asleep.

 The lieutenant takes a step forward and extends his hand, stopping me from shutting the door in his face.

 “I’m sorry, sir, you need to come with me, now—it’s not optional.”

 “At least let me put on some pants!”

 So I put on a pair of joggers and we duck and scramble into the waiting helicopter which lifts off almost immediately.

 McKinley points to a headset, exhorting me to put mine on. Once I get the contraption over my ears and adjust the position of the mic, I ask the lieutenant, “So am I to assume that this is it? The big one? Earthquake, volcano, impending meteor impact… alien invasion—which is it?”

 “Not at liberty to say, sir,” comes the response from McKinley.

 Then, as the helicopter banks left, the moonlight falls on several familiar faces I now recognize to be other authors!

 “Sunnuvabitch! Bob, Serena, Mark… Ralph, is that you?? How long has it been?”

 Bob responds first, “We have no clue why we’re here, if that’s gonna be your next question.”

 “You read my mind!”

 “Hey Mark, how come you look the most awake out of all of us?” asks Ralph, his eyes half-closed.

 “I was burning the midnight oil working on my latest book!”

 “Wonder what the hell the powers-that-be want from a handful of authors in the middle of the night?” Serena chimes in.

 “Not just any authors,” Lt. McKinley’s voice echoes on our headsets through some crackle and static—“sci-fi authors!”

 ***

After the helicopter lands at an undisclosed location, we’re escorted alternately from a sparsely lit building into a brightly illuminated briefing room with a white screen and seats arranged in rows. Each chair has a piece of paper taped to it with our names written on them.

 Ralph says, “I call dibs on the chair that says ‘Ralph’!”

 Just as we all start to laugh, we hear boots stomping.

 The officers fall into line and stand at attention, saluting, as General Agarwal makes his appearance.

 The general walks into the briefing room and calmly throws a file folder on the desk.

 Lt. McKinley hands him a cup of coffee.

 “At ease, gentlemen.”

 All of us start throwing questions at the general.

 “Everyone! Shut the hell up!”

 He regains his composure and straightens his uniform.

 “Please, ladies and gentlemen, have a seat in your assigned chairs. All of your questions will be answered shortly.”

 He nods to McKinley, which is apparently a signal for the lieutenant to hand out non-disclosure agreements.

 The agreements provide a long list of penalties and possible repercussions if anything we are about to hear in the briefing room were ever to leak outside.

 “Welcome everyone,” General Agarwal begins, “We are the SpOG, Space Ops Group. You will be working for us in the capacity of ‘civilian advisors,’ with intel provided to you on a need-to-know basis pending temporary TS, eyes-only clearance. Now, if any of you are prone to verbal diarrhea and can’t keep your pie holes shut, I suggest you leave the room right now, ’cause what it doesn’t explicitly say in those nifty little NDAs you got there is that if I even suspect you violated the trust we’re placing in you today, my men will take you to a black site and they do have the authority to question you… vigorously.”

 “I think he means torture,” Ralph leans in, whispering to me as he casually signs his NDA and hands it to an officer.

 “Okay, great!” exclaims the general, “Looks like you’re all in.”

 McKinley lowers the lights and an image of a fuzzy metallic object on a dark background appears on the screen.

 The general starts his briefing.

 “At 2200, last night, long-range tracking detected a UFO parked just outside the Van Allen belt. So far, they’ve been unresponsive to our attempts at contact, but their posture suggests they’d like a parley. We’ve brought on our best exo-linguists and exo-biologists, and so far they’ve got nothing. We want you bunch to take a shuttle up there to assess the threat level.”

 Bob puts up his hand.

 “Yes? You! You have a question?”

 “Yeah, why us? We’re science fiction writers.”

 “Who better than you?” comes the general’s response, “You authors dream up umpteen variations of this shit, so you’re well-positioned to tell us what kind of ET assholes we’re dealing with here.”

 “None of us have ever been to space—at least not physically,” I speak up, failing to frame my statement into a question.

 “We’ll be providing some basic safety training,” replies the general, “but trust me, going to space is a walk in the park, especially on the latest vessels we’ve got…”

 He claps his hands.

 “Time is of the essence here, ladies and gentlemen—we can’t have the Russians, Chinese, or European dimwits beating us to the punch! Any tech or weaponry on offer from ET is ours and ours alone this time.”

 This time?” Serena asks pointedly.

 “Forget I said that.”

 He pauses for a few seconds.

 “Lt. McKinley will continue with the briefing and show you the rest of our observational intel. This is what we’ve been training for, ladies and gentlemen, and coming face to face with ET is what y’all have been waiting your entire lives for. Needless to say, you’re all doing a great service to your nation and to all of mankind. Godspeed!”

 With that, the general leaves the room.

 “They’re all yours,” he says to McKinley on his way out.

 ***

So up we go into the latest, high-tech space vessel commanded by Captain Orlando Price. Along for the ride are Lt. McKinley and Col. Haas, acting as the direct liaison to General Agarwal, along with exo-linguist Prof. Lee. The other officers, mainly security, ops, and weapons specialists, are wearing balaclavas and don’t reveal their names or ranks.

 “Alright, crew,” starts Captain Price, “on our flight to the Van Allen belt today, you will be experiencing up to 2Gs during take-off. Buckle up and enjoy the ride! Next stop, Writers’ Rock!”

 ‘Writers’ Rock,’ a nod to our section of the crew contingent, is the code word for a tiny asteroid that’s situated very close to where the alien ship awaits.

 I’m surprised at how fast the trip takes. In a matter of minutes, we reach escape velocity and in another minute or so, we’re in the dark, weightless expanse of outer space.

 “Charting a course to unidentified object,” Price’s voice is heard on our headsets, “Here we go!”

 About twenty minutes later, Price adeptly brings the shuttle to a full stop directly in front of the alien vessel, in tandem orbit, a few hundred feet from Writers’ Rock.

 Prof. Lee says, “Alright, I’m piggybacking my prototype universal translator on the shuttle’s main systems.”

 “Roger that.”

 “Ready to send our first message.”

 “Proceed,” orders Col. Haas.

 Lee sends out the message:

 We mean you no harm.

 Suddenly, sirens and red lights start to go off in the shuttle.

 “Shit!” yells Price, “The assholes have us on full weapon’s lock! Permission to back off slowly, colonel.”

 “Denied!” says Col. Haas, “Lee, try again!”

 Lee starts to type out another message:

 This is an unarmed

 “Don’t lie,” Col. Haas interrupts, “they’ve probably scanned us and know we’re carrying nukes.”

 Lee regroups and sends the following:

 We just want to talk.

 More sirens.

 “Sir, they’re powering up some kind of high-energy beam!”

 “This isn’t working—let’s send them a live video feed!” Bob suddenly blurts out.

 “Good idea!” the rest of us chime in.

 “Colonel?”

 “Do it,” comes the order from Haas.

 “…Aaaaaand we’re live,” says Lee, using his hands to mime a clapperboard.

 We all begin to wave and smile at the camera.

 We probably look like idiots to them, I think to myself.

 “Sir, they’re powering down a bit.”

 Ralph stands up and says, “Aw, screw this bullshit.”

 He takes out a book he’s smuggled up in his spacesuit and starts to wave it at the camera.

 He opens the book and flips through the pages.

 “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” asks Haas.

 “I’m showing them that we’re literate,” replies Ralph.

 Ralph starts to mime the act of writing, holding an imaginary pen and writing the air, then he switches to shadow typing on an imaginary keyboard.

 “Message coming in!” Lee informs us, “It’s slow to populate, likely caused by the processing time required by the translator.”

 ARE…

 YOU…

 WRITERS?

 Ralph starts nodding to the camera, giving a thumbs-up sign, and Lee types “Yes” as a response.

 There’s a long pause.

 SCIENCE…

 FICTION?

 What the hell? I think to myself. That’s so specific.

 Lee types back, “Yes.”

 “Their weapons have gone offline, sir!”

 ***

 Long story short, Lee spends about an hour tweaking the translator, and by way of increasingly rapid comms we find out that the crew of the alien ship is also comprised mostly of—you guessed it—science fiction writers!

 The video feed from the alien ship is also being piped to our shuttle’s screens now.

 The aliens look like llamas, but with a humanoid build—two arms, two legs, and a single, horn-like protrusion on the tops of their heads.

 “Our military leaders sent us writers on a mission here thinking we would be best positioned to report back on the threat level your species poses.”

 “Yeah, same here!”

 Laughter on both ships.

 “So what do you think of us so far?” asks Mark.

 “Well, you’re fucking awesome,” the aliens respond, “We’d like to read all your books!”

 More laughter.

 The absurdity of the situation lends even more to a general feeling of camaraderie.

 “Say, why don’t we go to our moon and have a drink?” asks Bob, “I presume you have some version of ale on your planet?”

 “Ah yes, fermented beverages—we have several types onboard.”

 We all look at Col. Haas.

 “I’ll clear it with moon-base-alpha,” he says.

 Moon-base-alpha?” Serena probes.

 “Yeah, it’s a secret base we built on the dark side of the moon. It’s classified, okay?

 “We are an advanced species—we have medicine for writer’s block,” the translator churns out another message from the aliens.

 “Well, hot-damn!” says Bob.

 We’re all interested in what comes next.

 “It’s 100 proof!” the message concludes.

 We all guffaw and give phantom high fives to the aliens from our side of the screen.

 ***

The drinks would have to wait until both sides studied the suitability of each other’s atmosphere and the potential biohazards of meeting in person. 

However, since that glorious stand-off on the perimeter of the Van Allen belt at Writers’ Rock, Earth, and Pix’jalor (the aliens’ home planet—‘x’ pronounced ‘sh,’ and ‘j’ pronounced ‘dz’) have developed a rich tradition of literary exchanges. We’ve built virtual libraries on each other’s planets, with translators working on both sides to faithfully relay the original meaning of the respective texts.

 There are practically hundreds of Earth-based journals devoted solely to Pix’jalorian science fiction.

 It also turns out that General—sorry, Space Admiral—Agarwal is not as big of a jarhead as I’d assumed.

 In fact, I’d like to think that we’ve formed something akin to a friendship—okay, maybe more like a mutual respect.

 After the mission, he voraciously read through all of our books, and he’s built quite an impressive sci-fi library!

 When I question him about it, he says, “This material is strictly for me to study the enemy.”

 I shake my head.

 “You still don’t get it, do you Space Admiral?” I say, “Not all aliens are bad.”

 “You sci-fi writers sure as hell wrote about ’em that way!”

 “Touché, I guess we’re partly to blame,” I respond.

 “But hey, since Writers’ Rock, we’re slowly changing all that.”

 

 Albert Mamet

  

Albert Mamet (just Al to friends and readers alike) is a geologist by training. When he’s not studying core samples, Al is the editor of Granfalloon: Speculative Fiction Zine (granfalloon.org). He is a firm believer in the power of writers and the imagination to bridge the distances between nations, planets, and even galaxies.  This is his first professional writing credit. 

2 Comments

  1. Clever and fun!

    ReplyDelete
  2. a nice answer to the all-too-serious sci fi writers who have to bring the world near an end to make a point. how about have some fun. Al did it!

    ReplyDelete
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