Path: physics insights > misc > Felix Resilleserre > The Iemy Papers >

The Shopping Trip -- Part I

The following is the second installment of the tale which began with Takeoff, which should be read before this page, as it may help to render the following events marginally less obscure.

This installment was also very kindly provided to us by Professor Johann Schnarchhund of Miskatonic University.  Johann again assures us that this first person account, narrated by Isis Resillechat, is very much as it was received by his daughter, Taurina.  For additional information please see the Iemy Papers.

I'd already been to Life Support when we were setting things up, so I knew what to expect.   I didn't know how to get there from the Assembly Hall, but I can keep up with Dad pretty easily, even when he's running, so I was right in back of him when he got there.  I saw Snidly's gray stripiness sniffing around among the trays, along with a few other cats I didn't recognize.  Mom and the Captain arrived just after me.

I don't think I've told you about Life Support.  It's the main oxygen plant for the ship -- and plant is the right word!  Tray after tray after tray of plants, stacked from floor to ceiling, row after row, separated by narrow aisles, with just enough space above each tray for the brilliant lights that keep the plants growing.  There are lights on the bottom of each tray, to light the one below.  I don't know how the lights work; they're some kind of flat panel.   The trays are about a foot apart, with lots of narrow green leaves stretching up to the light.  All in all, it looks almost like a 3-d wheat field, but it's not really wheat -- it's cat grass.  Or, I should say, most of it is cat grass -- a good number of the trays are planted with catnip.  I could see that a lot of the trays already had healthy "crops" growing in them.   In their last trip to Sudan, a few months before we took off, Dad and Nim-nim explored a lot of the ship, and got the "garden" started.  But a lot of the trays were still just bare dirt, and quite a few were covered with spindly little seedlings that had just sprouted.

And all the while, a gentle breeze blew through the room, carrying fresh air -- and the raunchy stink we'd all noticed -- to all parts of the ship.

But ... there was dirt on the floor, and a lot of the trays looked like somebody had been digging in them.  Some of the plants seemed to have been chewed, with jagged ends on their leaves.  And, worst of all, a number of trays seemed to have been given what I might euphemistically call an overdose of organic fertilizer.  It appeared that somebody had mistaken some of the trays for litter boxes -- P-U!

Dad and Mom were starting to dig around in the trays with trowels, cleaning them out and putting the dug up plants back in place.  Nim-nim was walking along the top row of shelves near the entrance to the room, which were still just bare dirt, apparently examining each tray.  Snidly was sniffing intently at the floor under the trays nearest the doorway.  Several other cats had wandered off deeper into the room; maybe they were checking for additional damage.

The Captain was standing in the doorway, watching everything.  "Eet ařfar yřzfea?" he meowed -- 'How bad is it?'

"Lost a few plants, not too bad" replied Dad.  "May even improve growth in the long run."

"Pew -- there's got to be a better way than that!" Mom added.

But I was confused.  Why would anyone have done this?  "How could this have happened?" I finally asked.

From a spot under the rack I was standing next to, I heard Snidly growl, and then add, in English, "Sssssomeone have party, private party, here...  Eat too much yřfaehiř, get all, eeehhh, crazy."  He paused.  "Need put ... mmmmrrmmm ... oufuy here.  Mmrrrmm ... Wwwee need guard here -- guardssss.  Too tempting, too impořřřřtant to leave unguařrded."

I'd never heard the word yřfaehiř before, but I guessed it meant catnip...  and suddenly it was all too clear.  But that made me wonder...

"Why are we growing catnip, if it causes trouble like this?"

All the cats in room just turned around and looked at me, wide eyed, without saying anything.  I felt very thoroughly glared at!  Oh, well, whatever.  I guess there are some questions you aren't supposed to ask!

I was wondering  something else, now.  "Are the guards going to be armed?"  I had seen nothing like a "hand weapon" on the ship, or any weapon at all, for that matter.

Snidly, who had come out from under the rack and was sitting on the floor licking one front paw, didn't reply.  He just blinked at me, and looked at his paw, and stretched it slowly ... and six white claws appeared in the gray fur of his toes.  He murmured something that might have been "ařřřřme blanche".  I got the point -- cats are always armed.

The damage was mostly cleaned up at this point.  Snidly moved off to a spot behind some of the racks with a couple of the other cats.  I couldn't hear what they were saying to each other.  The cats he was talking to, both blotched orange tabbies, were big -- bigger than the Captain, almost as big as Skritch, the gunnery officer.  The Captain was still just standing, looking at the trays.  "Yřk? Yřk irvhut tiat?" -- 'Who did this?'

I thought it was a rhetorical question, but Snidly didn't.  His reply, coming from behind the racks in very fast Iemy which I mostly couldn't catch, seemed to imply that he didn't know but he hoped to catch the culprits, and soon.  I found myself hoping that he didn't -- the idea of Snidly as "security" officer no longer seemed at all funny.

Star Date 4.0

Hi, Taurina!  A lot's been happening.

What do you think of the Star Date idea?  I'm numbering the days from Star Date 0, when we took off.  Dad thinks it's cute, but he says we may have trouble with figuring out the dates when we make the Big Jump, so maybe I should call it Ship Date rather than Star Date.  But I like the sound of "star date".

I'm an officer now!  Can you believe it?  Or anyway I'm an assistant officer -- Assistant Communications Officer.  I guess the Captain wanted somebody who speaks human languages well, and Mom and Dad are both pretty much tied up with other jobs.

My boss is the Communications Officer, a cat named Mince.  Her Iemy name is Ařheai, and that's what the other cats all call her.  She's a small semi longhair, gray tabby with white feet, and stripes so pale you can hardly see them.  It seems funny to be working for a cat, but she's really nice.  She's really smart, too -- and she's a lot older than I am.

Have I told you about that?  I told you Dad jokes that they're the Numenorian cats, but I don't think I mentioned that, just like the people of Numenor, they live a lot longer than "ordinary mortals".  They don't count years the way we do, and they don't pay much attention to human politics, and that makes it hard to figure out just how long they live.  Only a few human events have been big enough for the cats to notice.  Mince is from Berlin, and I asked her about the Wall.  She said used to live in an alley right up against it, and she remembers when it came down!  She says the humans were all acting crazy, dancing around, and some of them were singing, right on top of the wall.  She said it was like they'd all eaten too much yřfaehiř  that day.  I was really surprised -- that's, like, so long ago, I think my parents hardly remember it!  She also said the Captain's a lot older than she is, but I'm not sure how she knows that.

You might think Mince and I don't have anything to do, since there's nobody to communicate with, but what we're doing now is learning how things work.  Dad and Nim-nim figured out a lot of stuff before we took off, but there's still an awful lot we don't know.  The ship's computer has lots of information on how stuff works, but it's all written in Iemy -- of course! -- and it's not indexed in any way that makes sense.  So we mostly just sit in front of the screens and read random parts of the documentation, hoping to find something useful.

One thing's sure, my Iemy's getting better really fast!  I could barely read Iemy script when we boarded the ship.  Now, just a few days later, I can already read it better than most of the cats in the crew!

Did I tell you about written Iemy?  It's almost a dead language on Earth -- the cats still use a few symbols, but hardly anything, really.  Dad had a really tough time cracking it.  Nim-nim helped him with the spoken language, but nobody knew what most of the written symbols meant.  When they first got the ship's computer partly powered up, it couldn't do much, but it could display the Book of Iem, and it could play an audio recording of the Book.  With that, Dad and Nim-nim figured out most of the written language.  Most of the cats who joined us in Africa had never seen their language written down, so we've all been learning it together since we took off.

Mom and Dad and the Captain have also been busy planning our trip back to Earth.  We left in such a hurry, there's a lot of stuff we need and we don't have, including enough supplies for us humans.  I think we'll be landing someplace in another day or two.  It's too bad we don't have "transporters", like they do on Star Trek -- it would make picking up groceries a whole lot easier!

Star Date 7.0

Today was to be the day of our "shopping trip".  The Captain wanted everybody in the bridge crew present for the landing -- Mom and Dad and Nim-nim, Mince and I, and Snidly and Skritch.  I have no idea why he thought we needed a gunnery officer in order to buy groceries, and Captain Boots didn't explain; Skritch was to be present, along with Snidly and all the rest of us.

The plan was to come down over the North Atlantic and then skim low over the waves to Scotland, where Mom's family has some land.  We figured we could come down there without anybody noticing, and still be close enough to a town to be able to get what we needed.  We were all to meet on the Bridge at 9:00 "ship time" -- which is actually North Africa time -- and then Mom would take us down, and once down, we'd take it from there.  A night landing might have seemed more sensible, but we needed to shop at stores that were only open during the day.  Besides, Dad thought maybe there'd be more air traffic during the day, which might make it less likely somebody would start shooting at us.

We'd all been working really hard to try to learn as much as we could about the ship before the landing.  Mom had been "practicing driving", cruising all around the back side of the Moon, where we figured we won't have NORAD coming after us to see what we were doing.  Dad, Nim-nim, and Skritch had been spending all their time at the computers working out how a lot of stuff works, and Mince and I had been working with the communication system, to try to get it to receive all the common bands used on Earth.  I had hoped we might tie into a cell phone network when we got in range, but we couldn't figure out how to make the ship talk spread spectrum so that was out -- this time, anyway.  And we couldn't wait any longer; we had lots of cat food on board, but the only human food we had left was eleven bags of Fritos, some cans of onion dip, and about 15 pounds of ground roasted coffee.  (I think Dad did the shopping before we launched.)

Mince and I got to the bridge pretty early, but of course we weren't the first -- the Captain was there ahead of us.  And ... by the way, have I described the Bridge to you, Taurina?  I don't think I have.

It's shaped kind of like the inside of a huge ice cream scoop, and the color of the walls is sort of like French vanilla ice cream.  It's round, about 30 or 40 feet across, and the walls curve up into a dome, with the middle of the ceiling maybe 15 or 20 feet high.  All around the walls there are these sort of desk like things.  They're low, maybe a foot off the floor, and are covered with buttons which are about the size of a cat paw.  Some of the buttons have symbols on them, and a few of them are colored.  The "desks" are maybe two feet wide, and angled up a bit; they're attached to the walls.  Between the "desks", there are gaps, which form little niches a couple feet deep and a few feet across.

Just above the level of the "desks" are a row of screens, each several feet across.   And, farther up the walls, up where they're curving in, there's a second row of screens, or maybe windows, facing down toward the Captain's perch, which is in the center of the room.  Adjacent screens in the upper row are maybe a foot apart, and on the strip of wall between each pair of adjacent screens, there's something that looks like a camera.  The "cameras" all point down toward the Captain's perch.

The floor of the room has pillows scattered around on it, but no chairs ... except, of course, for the two dentist's chairs Dad bolted to the floor for Mom and him to use.  Those chairs look really weird here; they don't fit in at all!

In the center of the room, as I already mentioned, is the Captain's perch.  It looks almost exactly like one of those "cat climbers" you can get, and in fact the shaft of it is used as a scratching post by the feline members of the bridge crew.  Whatever else they may be, they are still cats!

There are also three doorways opening out of the Bridge, irregularly placed around the room.  As with all the doorways on the ship, there are no doors; they're just open arches.  Mince and I came in through the doorway opposite the dentist chairs.  The Captain was looking at something on one of the screens when we came in, but as we went over to our places he jumped up onto his perch.

I sat on a cushion part way around the room from the dentist chairs, and strapped myself down.  Dad had found some seatbelt-type webbing and snap hooks someplace, and Nim-nim had noticed that there are little rings set into the floor of the Bridge in front of most of the desks.  So, after putting a strap around my waist and running another through it, I snapped the ends to the hooks.  I didn't want a repeat of what happened during takeoff, when I floated halfway to the ceiling before the gravity came on!

Mom came in right after Mince and I.  She was dressed in overalls, and had braided her hair, to keep it out of the way, I guess.  Mom's almost six feet tall, and with her long blond hair and blue eyes, people sometimes joke she looks like a character out of a Wagner opera.  I'm not sure how happy she is with that.  Sometimes when we've got somebody riding in the car with us who teased her about that, and Mom's getting onto the expressway or hurrying through a yellow light or something, she'll start singing the Ride of the Valkyries.  It's embarrassing but it's kind of funny, too.  I'm always surprised at the way people who haven't ridden with her before clutch the seat and bug their eyes out, but I guess I'm used to her driving.  And after a "Ho Yo T-o-o-o!" or two while dodging a truck or diving between cars while the light's changing, people riding with her pretty much never tease her about her looks again.  In fact, they usually don't say anything at all after that, at least until they get out of the car at the end of the ride.

But today, in her overalls, Mom looked more like the Farmer of the Valkyries.  As she strapped herself into the lefthand dentist chair, I asked her where Dad was.  "Dunno -- he said he had to get something, haven't seen him since."

Skritch had come in while she was doing that, and was standing at a screen over to my right, looking at text.  Skritch makes me nervous.  She's huge, and has a way of staring -- at me, at other cats, at the screen, at anything -- that's just a little too intense.  I don't think I've ever heard her purr.

Nim-nim strolled in a little later, and curled up on the floor in a niche between two desks.

And we waited.  Dad and Snidly were nowhere to be seen.  My "boss", Mince, was on my lap and showed every sign of being asleep.  Mom was looking at the screen in front of her and fiddling with buttons; she looked fidgety.  Finally she said "OK, we can't wait all day -- let's get going" and her hands started flying over buttons.

The upper row of screens -- or maybe they're windows -- were showing the Earth and stars; as Mom pressed buttons we rotated, and then all I could see up above were stars.  I switched the view of the screen in front of me to point straight down. (We'd all learned a lot about working the ship in the last few days!)  It showed the Earth, on the daylight side.  Mostly all I could see were clouds; I couldn't guess where Europe and America were, and I wasn't even sure which way was north.  I hoped Mom had some idea how to find Scotland!  I heard the rumble of the engines, and the Earth started looking bigger.  This time, though, I didn't feel anything.  This was so much better than our takeoff had been!  With the artificial gravity turned on, we just don't feel it at all when the ship accelerates.  I can't imagine how that can work, but Dad says the cats were masters of gravity.

The Captain didn't like this, though.  We were starting on time, which was fine, but he wanted his whole bridge crew present.  "Where's Felix?" he asked (in Iemy, of course), and got the same answer I'd gotten:  He'd gone to get something, nobody'd seen him since.  I heard him saying, "Felix to the bridge!" on the intercom, his voice echoing in from the halls.  More time went by, and still no Felix, and no Snidly, either.  The engines kept rumbling.

Finally, the Captain said, "Snidly!  Wake up and go find Felix!"  I heard a "Mrrrowwwrrr?" from under one of the desks, and realized Snidly had been there all along.  So, we were only missing Dad.  Snidly said, sleepily, in English, "Whyyyyy need Ffffeeeliksssss?" and started licking one paw.  "Get him!" was the Captain's only reply to that.

Snidly got up and started to amble toward one of the doorways, when we suddenly heard the sound of running feet from the corridor Mince and I had used.  Dad, brown hair a scrambled mess, dressed, as usual, in a brown plaid shirt and jeans, holding a huge coffee mug in one hand and what looked like a palm top computer in the other, erupted into the room.  "I found the GPS receiver!" he announced as he charged across the room to his dentist chair.  He's a good six inches shorter than Mom but, like Tigger, he always seems bigger to me than he really is.

His chair was facing him, and as he ran across the room he turned around, and leaped into it, backwards -- saving time, of course.  And then things got confusing.

Mom had been muttering to herself just before Dad arrived, and the last thing I heard her say was "Time to kill orbital velocity..." and as Dad hit his chair, Mom hit the big blue button on her control panel.  The engines were suddenly louder.  Had all gone as expected, Dad would have strapped himself in while Mom took us down to a level where the GPS receiver worked, and then we would have skimmed across the waves to Scotland, as planned.

But what actually happened was that when Dad hit the chair at a full run, it made a sort of a ripping noise, and went all the way over onto its back, with the base in the air.  Dad yelled "Ooops!", and the GPS receiver and his supersized coffee mug went flying.  I don't know where the receiver went, but I saw the mug splash down in the middle of one of the racks of buttons.  About a pint of coffee went right into the controls.  There was a nasty crackling noise, and the lights blinked off, then on, then off, and finally stayed off.  But it wasn't dark.  The room was filled with the glare of sunlight, raw sunlight, shining through the windows -- the sun's normally blocked out in some way, and all we can see are stars and planets; but now the windows had gone clear, and were letting in everything.  I didn't have time to worry about that, though, because it was followed by a loud "Snap!" from the controls, and the gravity went off!

This time there wasn't any floating, though.  Mom was "killing orbital velocity", which, since we were rightside up relative to the Earth, meant she'd just gunned the engines to accelerate us sideways.  So, "down" suddenly rotated -- "down" now pointed toward the wall just over the dentist chairs.

I was hanging from my belt strap.  Mince woke up and grabbed on tight -- yow! -- I wrapped my arms around Mince and yelled "Ouch! Leggo!"   I heard the Captain yelling something in Iemy, using words I'd never heard before; from the direction of his voice it sounded like he was still on his perch, holding on somehow.  I caught a glimpse of a gray blur shooting through the air, straight across the middle of the room -- Snidly, it would seem, hadn't been holding onto anything!  A moment later I heard the thump of Snidly landing on the wall,  accompanied by a chorus of faint crashes and bangs echoing in from the corridors as all over the ship, as anything that wasn't strapped in place accommodated itself to the new definition of "down".

Mom's chair had twirled around when the gravity cut out, and she was having a hard time getting it turned back.  "Felix!  We've got to have the gravity back!  We can't land this way!" she was yelling, as she worked her chair back around so she could get to the controls.  Dad was trying to hang onto the desk with one hand so he didn't fly off across the room, mop up the spilled coffee with one hand, and get the controls to come back to life with one hand, and he was coming up a hand short.  Just as Mom got her chair turned around enough so she could get at the buttons, there was a crackling Bang! from the control panel and it started belching clouds of black smoke.  Simultaneously, the engines cut out completely -- whoops, free fall again!  I heard Dad say "oops!" under his breath, and then I heard him muttering "Masters of gravity ... geniuses ... never heard of circuit breakers ... ship designed by lunatics..."

Mom was unstrapping, so she could get away from the smoke; her controls were dead anyway at this point.  She was saying, "I'll try to get control of the engines somewhere else -- but we've got to get gravity back, we're not in orbit, we're heading straight down!  Felix, this landing will be worse than rough!"

I looked out the windows.  Mom was right; this was not going to be fun.  The view had rotated -- I could see Earth, getting bigger fast, filling one whole side of the sky.  So, we weren't rightside up anymore.  If we hit the ocean -- or the ground -- like this, it would be a royal mess.

Mom and Dad both shoved off from their chairs in front of the smoking controls, and drifted across to the opposite side of the bridge.  Nim-nim was already there, at one of the screens, apparently trying to get things under control.  But it was hard; in free fall, not strapped down, Nim-nim was having trouble pushing any of the buttons.

We weren't in free fall for long, though.  We were in atmosphere at this point, and it was getting thicker fast.  Friction was giving us our "gravity", a lot faster than we wanted it, in fact.  Worse, it was "gravity" in the wrong direction.  The saucer had turned completely over; the Earth was "above" us.  And so "down" was suddenly "up".  I was again hanging from my straps. Dad was hanging onto the edge of the desk with one hand, with one leg hooked over it, and pushing buttons with his free hand.  Nim-nim had finally gotten a good claw hold with three feet, and was pushing buttons with one foot.  They were shouting at each other in Iemy; I could catch the words "irhut" -- fire -- and "ahu" -- gravity -- and not much else.  I think they were arguing about what to try to fix first.  Mom had kicked off her shoes.  She was hanging by both hands and pushing buttons with her toes.

Something somebody did finally made a difference, but it wasn't the difference we had hoped for.  We were still falling straight down, we still had no gravity -- but the dome suddenly turned completely transparent.  None of us had known it could do that!  As far as I could see in all directions, there was nothing but water.  I couldn't see any waves; just a slight wrinkly pattern ... and then a couple seconds later I could see waves ... and the waves were getting bigger, really fast.  We were obviously slowing down really fast, too, from friction with the air -- the straps holding me to the "temporary ceiling" were starting to hurt.  I heard a muffled "Mrrwowrr!" from the Captain and suddenly he was falling "up" -- or "down" -- into the dome, only to be joined a moment later by Snidly, who had finally lost his grip on the wall.

We were low enough so I could see seagulls out to the sides, and I was just thinking that whether the ship survived the impact or not wasn't going to matter to any of us, when Dad yelled "Hah! Got it!" and the dome was suddenly the ceiling again instead of the floor.  None too soon, either -- the Captain and Snidly were still falling back to the "new floor" when we hit the water.

Star Date 7.4

Impact was, like, totally weird.  We were upside down ... but with the gravity back on, it didn't feel that way at all.  The "floor" felt like down, the top of the (still totally transparent!) dome felt like up -- but then the ocean was above us, and the sky was down below the ship.  So, all in all, it was as though someone turned the Earth upside down and then dropped the Atlantic Ocean on top of us.

The boom when we hit the water was just deafening, and the whole ship shuddered, but that was really all -- with the gravity back on, nothing so much as bounced inside the ship.  Except, of course, that things were still bouncing from the gravity's sudden return!  But I wasn't thinking about things bouncing at that moment.  I couldn't take my eyes off the dome, over which the ocean had broken.  First the waves rushing straight "down" at us, and then total chaos and foam covering the dome, and finally just darkness, as the water over -- or, rather under -- the dome was shaded by the whole ship.  With no sensation of motion, I had no idea how deep we went, and I couldn't tell if we were still sinking, or floating back to the surface, or what.

I pulled my eyes from the dome, and looked around the bridge.  The lights were still out, but the screens which had been showing us the view "straight down" were now showing bright blue sky, so there was enough light to see.  Mom and Dad and Nim-nim were picking themselves up from the floor, where they'd fallen when the gravity came back on.  Snidly and the Captain had both landed on their feet on the soft deck, and were fine.  I saw Snidly trotting off the bridge.  "Go check life support", he called back over his shoulder.  After the shaking up we had when the gravity went off, that was probably a good idea!

Dad was muttering something about the lights, and I decided to see if I could do anything from where I was sitting.  I tried the sequence that I'd learned turned them on -- and voila, they lit again!  Apparently some stuff could be done from any control panel on the Bridge.

"Lights!  What did you do?" asked Dad.  I told him I'd just tried turning them on, and they worked.  He looked surprised, and hurried over toward the panel which had been smoking earlier, but something caught his eye on the floor.  Or, rather, it turned out that something didn't catch his eye -- the bolt holes where his dentist chair had been fastened down.
"They're gone!" he said, sounding really surprised.  He got down on his hands and knees and started searching the floor.  Nim-nim joined him, and Mom looked over both their shoulders.  I unstrapped and walked over and looked, too.  There was, however, nothing to see -- just smooth floor.  The weird thing is that Dad had drilled holes in the deck and fastened down the chairs with lag bolts.  Where had the bolt holes gone?

"It's like the holes in the deck healed up" I said, and Dad stopped doing anything, and just stared at me for close to a minute.

"I never thought of that", he said. "But it would explain a lot..."  he trailed off, and stood there for another little while, tapping his front teeth.  Then,
"Nim-nim, let's get this panel opened up and see what's up with the coffee spill" he called, and started fiddling with the desk by the chair.

I had thought of something else, though, something I wanted to go see.  I said, softly, to Mince, "Have you seen the observation deck?"  It was what we were calling the room I'd first met Snidly in, and I wanted to see how things looked while we were still under water.  I sure wasn't needed on the Bridge just now, so this was the time to go look at it.

As we left the Bridge, Dad and Nim-nim were just getting the panel opened up, and I heard Dad exclaiming about how clean it was inside -- no burned wires, no burned coffee, no damage he could see at all.  Strange!

Star Date 7.5

Now that I knew the way to the observation deck, it took just a few minutes to get there from the Bridge.  I still had to crawl part of the way, of course, since the corridor which leads to it is too low to stand up, but with the soft floors that's OK.

When I first entered the room, I just stopped and stared.  It was lovely.  The Bridge was in the center of the ship, and all we could see out the dome was dark water, shaded by the bulk of the Saucer.  But here, we were all the way out at the edge, and the sunlight was streaming down into the water.  Overhead, we were looking straight into the depths, and it was dark, but off to the sides everything was lit a dramatic blue-green,  shading to almost white when I looked down over the edge of the floor.

But what really made it special was the fish.  Over to the left, there was a shark swimming past.  It looked about as long as Dad is tall, and it couldn't have been more than a few feet from the wall -- or, rather, where I knew the wall must be; I still couldn't see any sign of walls or ceiling in this room.  Just outside the room to the right, there was a school of what looked like butterfly fish swimming by.  And all of them -- shark, butterfly fish, and a host of others I could see farther off -- were swimming upside down!  I giggled as I watched them; the sight was every bit as delightful as I'd expected.  I knew it couldn't last; as soon as Mom got us turned over, that would be the end of the show.

Mince was entranced, too.  She stared at the butterfly fish, and then trotted over to the wall, and, just as Snidly had done, she went right up it.  She just hung there, in the middle of the air, staring out at the fish, while I walked slowly down across the room to the wall, also staring at the fish.  A handful of other cats had drifted in, and were sitting or lying on cushions, looking out.

We showed no sign of turning over.  In fact, not only were we remaining inverted, but we also appeared to be sinking:  The sunlight was getting dimmer, the water was looking darker, and all the upside down fish seemed to be swimming on slanting trajectories, heading "down".  I looked straight up.  I thought I could see shadowy somethings up there in the darkness -- and the somethings seemed to be getting closer.  The water out to the sides was looking much darker now.  Then something very dark and shadowy came rushing down at us, there was a muffled thud which I heard echoing in the corridor, the floor shook gently, and the scene outside stopped moving.  I guess that answered my question as to whether this ship would float or not!

Directly overhead it was black, but there was still a little light out to the sides.  I could see vague greenish shapes -- apparently the daylight at this depth was enough to support some seaweed.  A little while after we hit the bottom, the I felt the rumble of the engines, but nothing I could see outside moved; the seaweed stayed where it was, and the darkness remained overhead, and the sunlight -- dim as it was -- was still coming from below.  The rumble stopped.

I was just thinking that this didn't seem at all good, when the intercom came to life.  "Ařheai fey Hihi, an iřfitutar.  Enz!"  It was the Captain's voice, and it didn't sound like a request:  'Mince and Isis, on the bridge.  Now!'

Star Date 7.6

When Mince and I got to the bridge, everybody was just looking at screens.  I mean everybody -- the entire bridge crew, including the Captain, along with a couple cats I knew slightly from our classes in written Iemy.  All the cats were just reading text.  Mom and Dad were reading text, too, but they also were munching on Fritos.  I realized it was after lunchtime, and I was getting kind of hungry ... but I really didn't feel like more Fritos just now.

"What's going on?"

Dad replied.  "Sit down and start searching.  We're looking for a way to turn the ship over."

Mince took a seat on one of the cushions, and I sat next to her.  We started reading text, too.

There's lots of documentation, but as Dad has frequently complained, it's not very well organized.  In fact, it's not organized at all; it's a large number of separate chunks -- like files -- with names that don't mean much to us.  You can search for individual words (or characters), and find chunks of text which contain those words, but that's all.   So, just like everybody else there, I tried to guess what words might lead me to a way out of our predicament.  After a few minutes I got the feeling that I was wasting time, that I was probably just going over the same ground everybody else had already searched.  And I was feeling hungry, and wanted something other than Fritos.

I asked nobody in particular, "What sort of way of turning it over -- what kind of thing do we think we might find in the documentation?"

Mom answered me, in a tired voice.  "We don't know.  We have no idea.  We're stuck.  We're upside down, and firing the engines just sticks us even harder.   We can't move sideways, either.  And the gyros won't tip us up against our own weight.  We need a Deus ex Machina..."

I thought about that.  "Dad, what's Iemy for 'machine'?  -- Or maybe 'computer'?"

Dad glanced up.  "Computer is 'nuyhefatlu'.  Machine is 'ařfiode'."

If what we needed was a Deus ex Machina, I figured, why not look for one?  So I searched for "computer" and "machine" and "help" (otariř).   No luck so far.

"Dad, what's Iemy for 'God'"?

"I ... don't know. Nim-nim might know.  Or you could try 'iřtuine ouufeyt'... that's 'big person'"

Nim-nim didn't add anything to what Dad had said, so I tried all combinations I could think of -- person of the machine, big person of the machine, person of the computer...  and...

"Mince, would you look at this?  I think I've found something, but I'm not sure..."

Mince looked at what I'd found.  It was in an obscure discussion of tuning the "upside reconverter field", whatever that might be.  But the text on that page ended with a puzzling, apparently senseless reference to talking to the person of the computer -- "iřtuine yt nuyhefatlu".  Literally, it was the person who belongs to the computer.  And next to it there was a string of three symbols, which might have been key codes.  Mince mumbled something which was, I think, Iemy for "What the hey...", and she reached up and pressed the keys corresponding to the symbols.

The lights flickered, and went out.  Oh, no, not this again!, I thought.  But no, this was something else -- something strange.  The things that looked like cameras flashed on, very briefly, and off again.  A buzzing filled the bridge, there were a couple of staticky crackling noises, and a voice from nowhere and everywhere said, loudly,


"What was that?" asked Mom, in a startled tone.

"I don't know", I said, "but I think it's your Deus ex Machina."

The screens all went dark at that point, and the camera things lit up again, one at a time, in sequence, so a flash of light seemed to travel all around the bridge.  The screens lit, then, one at a time, showing what looked like a random color pattern, and then went out again.

Dad muttered, in a puzzled tone, "Looks like a POST sequence..."

A series of pure tones sounded across the bridge, there was another crackling noise, and the buzzing disappeared.  The strange voice spoke again, saying, loudly, "Ytatyřa tuunu.  Yn iřvlit".  Roughly speaking, that's "fault detected, please wait".

Silence followed.  The screens were still dark, and the lights were still out, so we sat there in the dark.  Dad murmured "Sounds like POST failed -- what do we do now?"  Then he answered himself:  "I guess we wait."

The voice spoke again.  "Nuyhefatlu aiodir ene.  Arn utiřvhu."  This was a puzzler -- it was 'Main computer not.  Someone fix.'  The word 'not', "ene", presumably meant "offline" here.  But if the main computer was offline, what had we been using all this time?  Nobody on the bridge seemed to have any more idea of what this meant than I did.  And what was "someone" going to do to "fix" this?

A series of announcements followed, very fast, echoing eerily in the pitch darkness:

Ytatyřa tuunu.  Nuyhefatlu aiodir ana iřarr futa uneou.  Arn tyřihou aiotyř.
Ytatyřa tuunu.  Isořte eet yfařfout.  Arn utiřvhu.
Arn ařfyřt zbytu isořte.
Ytatyřa ana iřarr tuunu.  Nuyhefatlu aiodir iafua zbytu.

And then there was a pause.  That had been hard to follow, but it didn't sound great.  It sounded like there were multiple problems, starting with the main computer being "more early stopped wrong", with a forced check ... of something.  Then something about memory corruption -- 'remember be damage' -- and 'ařfyřt zbytu isořte' was make again remember, which sounded like it was rebuilding its memory system.  That couldn't be good, could it?  And then that last message, fault detected earlier, computer start again -- I crossed my fingers.

A countdown followed:  Ysuřtao ... neuřtao ... ateao ... ehetao ... paao ... itořteao ... ihyřiao ... irhořtao ... irnuao ... aoudao ... aznao ... netao.

Another pause, then another message:

Ytatyřa tuunu.  Nuyhefatlu aiodir ene.  Arn utiřvhu.

Oh, no, I thought.  It's in a crash loop!  We're trapped here in the dark, the computer's probably got the controls locked out, and it's stuck in a loop!

But it wasn't.  No message about "forced check" this time, no memory errors; this was different.  There was another pause, a little longer, followed by another announcement:

Ytatyřa tuunu.  Ahařt ouufeyt am.
Ytatyřa tuunu.  Ahařtao ipa nirir ouufeyt am.

Two more faults:   Time too big.  Time since "off" too big.  Uh, oh... sounds like it doesn't like its clock setting...  We've got a Y2K problem in our flying saucer.  What now?

"What now" was another message, this time much louder:

"Yn ahařt ivj!"

"Say the time".  Great.  We didn't know how to tell time in Iemy.  None of us did -- the cats had long since lost all knowledge of whatever the old time system was before they came to Earth, and the computer had no knowledge of modern Earth time systems.

We all waited for someone to come up with an idea.  The voice repeated the request:

"Yn ahařt ivj!"

I wondered what would happen if we never answered it.  Would it finally "time out", and just use the time value it had?  I thought about Dad's complaints about the lack of circuit breakers -- the ship designers weren't very tolerant of gross "human" errors.  Maybe it would never time out.  I looked around, to try to see if anyone else might have an idea, but it was too dark to see anything.  Nobody spoke.

"Yn ahařt ivj!"

Nim-nim finally broke the silence:  "Irnu oleyao year ipa nirir!"

That was, '400012 year since shutdown'.  But .. the computer couldn't know the English word year -- it wouldn't be able to parse what Nim-nim had said!  And that number was surely wrong by at least a few centuries; we didn't really know when the computer had been shut down.

But this wasn't your average Windows box we were dealing with here.  It apparently guessed that 'year' must be an unfamiliar time unit, for the voice immediately asked:

"Year eet arneou yřzfea?"

That is, "how long is a year?"  I looked at Nim-nim -- or, rather, where I thought Nim-nim was on the dark bridge.  This reduced, as they say, to a previously unsolved problem; how do you define 'year' in terms a Iemy speaker would understand?

Nim-nim barely paused before saying:  "Year eet nueeha yt Earth".  I groaned to myself.  'Year is orbit of Earth' -- she'd defined one English word in terms of another; this wasn't going in a good direction.  But again I underestimated the computer, which apparently took a guess as to what Earth might mean, for it asked:

"Fyřzk eet Earth yřv?"  -- That is, "Is here Earth?"

To which Nim-nim replied "yřnutyřa", 'correct', and we all waited to see if the computer would make sense of it.  There was another pause, as though the machine were reflecting, and it said:

"Farnui yřarnyř eet yřnutyřaAřt iardiř ahařtao arneou."

'Then clock is right.  I sleep long.'  It was a little jarring -- I don't think I've ever heard a computer refer to itself in the first person before.

The things that looked like cameras flickered again, then settled down to a dim glow.  And suddenly I realized I could see shapes again -- the lights were coming back on.  But they came up slowly; gradually the bridge appeared, with Mom and Dad, Nim-nim, Snidly, Skritch, the Captain, the two cats whose names I didn't know, and Mince, and me, all ranged around the edge of the room at the control panels, just as we'd been when the lights went out.  But ... in the middle of the floor, by the base of the Captain's perch, there was another cat.  And it certainly wasn't any of the cats which had come aboard with us.

Continued in Shopping Trip, Part II


Page created on 2/21/10.  Minor corrections, 2/22/10