Tap Tap (Rest of the Story)

This is the rest of the story. Click here for the beginning

I found myself standing up, moving towards the airlock.  It was like one of those dreams where you know something terrible is lurking behind the door but you can’t stop yourself from opening it.  I reached the door, confirmed the pressure beyond was normal (some routines are so hard wired if you live in space they survive even terror!) and hit the control to open the door.  My heart was absolutely hammering by then and if there had been anywhere to run to in the cabin I’d have been ready to fly.  The door slid open to reveal… two people.

I nearly collapsed with the relief, then came the shock.  How could they possibly be there?  Pretty quickly I realised they weren’t.  At least, there weren’t people there.  Superficially they looked right but it’s amazing the small things that everyone does that shout “human” to us.  You never notice them until they’re missing.  These two looked human, sounded human and very definitely were not human.

My memory gets very fuzzy from that point.  Whether it’s down to the shock at the time or something the aliens did, either deliberately or not, I don’t know.  Yes, I said aliens.  I only remember parts of our conversation but I do remember some bits clearly. 

I remember sitting in the pilot’s chair with it swivelled round, the two of them perched on my bed.  Sitting in positions that just looked wrong.  Weren’t natural, wouldn’t be comfortable.  Strangely I didn’t feel that scared.  I think that partly comes from their efforts to appear human, while they were keen to stress they weren’t.  They weren’t trying to deceive me, just to put me at my ease.

So what do I remember?  I know I talked a lot.  Answered loads of their questions.  I found out a little about them.  They live in jump space, incredible as that sounds.  They have done for… well, the impression I had was for a long time.  A very long time.  And they’d recently noticed our ships whizzing through their environment.  Appearing, travelling and then disappearing.  They were curious.  We didn’t cause them any problems, they didn’t mind us intruding.  They were just interested in us. 

I remember they were very surprised when I told them about normal space, well what we call normal.  They had no idea any such place existed.  They said given the huge effort to manifest in my ship, in a form I could interact with, it wasn’t somewhere they’d ever be likely to visit.  But they were fascinated to hear about it.

I don’t remember much else clearly that would be of interest, it’s mostly me talking about our worlds, our universe.  I can’t even remember what they looked like. 

When they left they exited via the airlock once again which helped my sanity.  If they’d just disappeared in a puff of smoke it might have finished me off.  As soon as they left I started to feel better, started to be able to think clearly again.  To think of all the things I should have asked them.  Typical.  Maybe it was the shock like I said but my theory is it was something to do with their presence.  It was hard for them to enter the ship and I think as well as altering themselves they may have altered the physics within the ship a little too.  Certainly all the system recordings went quite screwy while they were aboard.

They had a little present for me.  My journey continued but I dropped out of Jump space more than two days early, yet still arrived at Sol as planned.  I do hazily remember telling them how keen I was to get to my destination, to be back amongst my own kind, to see my son again.  The realm of Jump space is theirs so they must be able to manipulate it.  Somehow they did and I arrived two days early.

That was my last trip.  After that experience I didn’t ever want to enter Jump space again, no matter how benign the aliens seemed.  And of course there was no way I’d be allowed to.  Having turned up two days earlier than expected, and other ships turning up from Arcturus a few days later confirmed my departure time, I had some explaining to do.  It shouldn’t be too surprising that most of the authorities felt I was delusional.  Or trying to withhold the secret of faster jump travel.  I was debriefed for several weeks before they decided I was definitely delusional but not a danger to myself or anyone else.  That I truly believed my story.  Delusional, not dangerous and certainly never to be put in charge of a spacecraft of any type again.

So I never flew in jump space again.  My career as a freighter pilot was over.  Oh, don’t feel sorry for me.  Things turned out rather well.  You see, many years ago a union negotiator with plenty of ambition but no actual understanding of our job secured a pay deal with an interesting clause.  The pay deal was much less than we wanted but was the best he could get.  To offset that he negotiated bonuses for early delivery.  Completely useless to us as the time in Jump space is fixed for any journey.  The corporations knew we could never collect, so did we.  And due to some rather slack wording the bonus increased with every trip that didn’t arrive early, going into a central pool to be collected by the next, or in reality first, pilot to turn up early.  It became a running joke amongst freighter pilots when they got drunk together.  Wild schemes to somehow travel faster were discussed.  And more than a few attempts had been made to scam the money, using duplicate ships being one favourite trick.  None were successful.  The authorities and corporations were well aware of the clause.  Why didn’t they remove it you ask?  In case someone found a way to actually do it.  Faster jump travel would be worth billions, trillions to them.

And then there was me.  Without a doubt I had arrived early – two days early.  I was entitled to the bonus.  And what a bonus it was, I could have bought solar systems with it.  Of course it wasn’t that simple.  The corporations weren’t going to hand over that sort of money without getting the secret of faster travel, not without one hell of a fight anyway.  Their lawyers would tie it up in court for years or even decades.  But they knew I still might win.

So they made me an offer.  A very, very generous offer.  Not buying solar systems generous but good enough to keep me and my family in luxury for generations to come.  And to ensure some privacy from those convinced I knew the secret of faster jump travel who still come out of the woodwork from time to time.

I accepted and my life is great now.  I spend all day every day with people around.  I see my son every single day.  So much so that he’s sick of me, but hey… that’s what parents are for.  Life is really good.

But if you come to visit, if you come to my door, please, please, please use the intercom.  Whatever you do don’t knock on the door.  Even after all these years hearing “tap, tap” on a door sends a cold shiver down my spine.

The End

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