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

The Shopping Trip -- Part II

The following is the third installment of the tale which began with Takeoff, and continued with Shopping Trip Part I.  Both prior installments should be read before this page, as that 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.

Previous Installment: The Shopping Trip, Part I

Star Date 7.7

The cat by the Captain's perch was medium sized, a little smaller than the Captain.  Its markings were the usual tabby stripes, but its base color was pure white, and its stripes were sharp-edged, and coal black, Blue Eyesmaking it look more like a miniature white tiger than a domestic cat.  Its eyes, too, were weird:  Intense blue-green, and the pupils... well, they were diamond shaped, like regular cat pupils, but the edges were fuzzy; the diamonds seemed almost like tiny nebulas.

It looked around the room, and then started speaking.  [Of course it spoke in Iemy, but for the most part, the conversations on this page are just presented in idiomatic English translation.]

"Greetings ... I am the Person of the Machine."  And it paused, and looked around the room again; its gaze seemed to linger on the three humans present.

"Who are you, all?"

After a short pause, during which we all looked at the Machine Person, the Captain introduced himself:  "Captain Boots .. and these are my crew."  He paused, then added, "The rest of you say your names -- Nim-nim, you first, then on around the room."

Space Cat, the Original
As we introduced ourselves, I was wondering what this machine person was.  A cat which was somehow part of the flying saucer?  A space cat ... Ever since I read the stories of his adventures on Mars and Venus I'd wanted to meet "Space Cat", I thought with a chuckle, but I'd never pictured this as the meeting place!

After we had announced ourselves, "Space Cat" looked around at us yet again, and announced "You are all extremely healthy looking, very sleek, with lovely colors.  Your voices are most mellifluous, and I am extremely pleased to be among you."  This was all said in a bland, unemotional tone ... it was, in fact, all just part of the formal greeting!  But what came next wasn't.  Before any of us could say anything further, Space Cat turned and looked toward Mom and Dad and rapped out,

"What are you?  Are you the dominant life on this planet?  Are you iarfořt of the People?"

I'd never heard the word iarfořt before, but it didn't sound good.  Dad seemed amused by the question, and looked like he was about to say something when the Captain broke in.

"They are not iarfořt!  They are the dominant sort of life on Earth and they are helping -- enormously -- with the Return.  But others of their kind know little of us."

Space Cat was staring at the Captain.  "What are you?" he -- or she -- asked.  "You look all blurred; your stripes are all fuzzy.  And you...", looking at Skritch now, "You have no stripes at all, not even blurry ones.  What are you?  And why are you on a ship of the People?"

The Captain was glaring at Space Cat now.  He said -- loudly -- "We are the People of Iem!  I, myself, am a direct descendant of Captain Boots Eelstopper.  And this person", looking at Skritch, "is a Person also, descending in a direct line ..."  I felt my mind glazing over as the Captain talked on, and on, about the lineages of Skritch, and each of the other bridge crew members, and person after person in the rest of the crew.  I had no idea he knew so much about so many crew members, and in fact I rather began to wish he didn't.

I noticed Snidly slip off under one of the desks, where he curled up and apparently went to sleep.  Mom was staring out the dome at the seaweed, barely visible in the dim light.  Dad was absorbed in something he'd found on the computer, and was absently tapping a pen against his teeth.  Nim-nim had come over and was looking at Dad's screen as well.  Just as I was starting to feel it was just too difficult to keep my eyes open, and thinking Snidly had the right idea, the Captain finally stopped talking.

Space Cat, who still appeared to be wide awake, just looked at him for a few seconds, apparently thinking, and then said, "It has been a long, a very long, time.  So long, you hardly look like the People any more."  And a pause, and, "Why are you here?  Why have I been awakened, after sleeping so long?"

The Captain started to explain.  He said we -- or, rather the People -- were finally returning to Arbr, after long millenia trapped on Earth, and then he began on what sounded like it was going to be the entire oral history of the People from the time of the crash up the present.  I groaned, softly.  I was thinking more and more about lunch, and Fritos and onion dip were sounding better by the minute.  At the rate Captain Boots was going we were never going to get off the bottom of the ocean.

It was Space Cat who finally came to the rescue.   During a dramatic pause in the Captain's speech, as he was describing the flight of a group of the People from a tribe of wild dogs, floating across Lake Victoria on a collection of rafts, Space Cat broke in and said, "I understand enough for now.  But you must have had some particular need of me, or you would not have awakened me at this time.  Do you have an immediate problem?"

Mom, who must have been about as hungry as I was, spoke up before the Captain could say anything further and said "We're stuck -- we're upside down, on the bottom of the ocean, and we can't turn over!"

"Use gyros."

"We tried, a lot.  And we tried with the engines and gyros together.  It doesn't work -- they won't turn us over."

Space Cat made a sort of purring question noise, and then ... vanished.  Silently, all at once, like a light being switched off.  "Huh -- what happened, a SEGV in the help system?" I heard Dad ask, softly.

Star Date 7.703

This was alarming -- our Deus ex Machina had just disappeared! -- but in a matter of a few seconds, Space Cat reappeared.  Once again, there was no sound, no flicker; one moment not there, the next, there.

The Captain, Mom, Dad, and Nim-nim all started talking at once; the gist of it was,  What's with the gyros, and can we get unstuck?  When there was finally a pause in the questions, Space Cat explained: 

"I've looked at the gyros.  They have been damaged.  I looked at the computer's records.  There was a recent period of freefall, then a major shock.  It was outside the gyro's design limits, and the bearings cracked.  Much energy was released, and there was some melting.  Erfout Eetjney is a strong ship but even it has limits.  One should be more gentle.

"Until the gyros are otfar, the ship cannot turn itself over."  I wasn't sure what otfar meant -- it sounded like the Iemy for "healed", which, I speculated, could also mean "repaired".

There was a stunned silence.  Cracked gyro bearings -- melted gyros?  How could we ever repair them?  And how were we going to get off the bottom of the Atlantic?  Mom finally spoke.  "Are we just stuck here, then?  Is there no way to launch, with the ship upside down?"

A one word answer:  "Ene."  That was Iemy for "no".  End of discussion ...

... except ... the Captain was blinking at Sniggles, looking suddenly relaxed.  I heard Mince purr faintly, next to me ... and then I remembered, Iemy isn't like English.  Ask a negative question, get a negative answer, and you need to invert the question to see the meaning.  So, "No" meant "No, that's wrong".  Sooo.....  I saw Mom suddenly smile, as she realized the same thing.

"So, how do we launch from here?", she asked.

"Just block pull, float to surface.  You don't know?  Of course not.  I'll show you."

"Space Cat" trotted across the bridge to Mom's seat, and started pushing buttons.  "Like this", I heard, and a diagram of some sort appeared on Mom's screen.  Space Cat started touching parts of the diagram -- I heard a surprised grunt from Dad:  "A touch screen -- didn't realize that!"

My stomach suddenly lurched, and for a strange moment I felt like I was falling -- falling, even though I was still firmly seated on a cushion, and nothing seemed to have budged.  All around us, the ship made a brief groaning noise.  "Done -- pull is blocked," and the darkness outside the dome began to lighten.

The blue light of the surrounding ocean continued to brighten, until, at last, our "crash landing" was reversed:  In a froth of foam and confused waves, the Atlantic Ocean seemed to rise above us, until it stopped, hovering, a dark blue-green roof blocking out what should have been the sky.  The sun, shining up from below us, was shining almost straight "up" -- or "down?" -- onto the ocean.  All around, as I looked off in the distance, the ocean "roof" was sparkling in the sunlight, but straight up it was dark -- shadowed by the ship, which Space Cat seemed to have called the Erfout Eetjney.  "Beyond the Clouds", indeed!

I heard Mom murmur "Now let's go get some groceries -- I can't stand another day of Fritos.  Scotland, here we come!" and the familiar rumble of the engines started up again.

Star Date 7.71

With Mom occupied with flying us to Scotland, there were no more urgent questions for Space Cat, and in fact none of the rest of us would be needed for anything until we arrived.  Before Space Cat could vanish again, Snidly asked, "Are you real?  Are you solid?"

"You see me, you hear me.  If I did not exist you could not.  So, I am obviously real."

"But are you solid?  Could I touch you?  And if you are not, how do you talk, and how did you push the buttons -- if you did, really, push buttons?"

Snidly had put his paw on something that had been bothering me -- if this "cat" was just a projection, as seemed likely, then how was it that it could speak?  Its voice seemed to come from it -- not from some speaker off to one side, and not from all around, but directly from the Person of the Machine.

"I could touch you.  And I speak the same way, by push-pull, of course."

Push-pull?  I wondered; that didn't mean anything to me.  Dad said they called gravity "pull"; could there be a connection with how the cat's voice was produced?  I had no idea.  But this had me wondering about something else, something more metaphysical.  I had been thinking of this entity as "Space Cat", but of course that wasn't right.  In fact, I didn't even know if this was an "entity" at all, or just a very fancy version of a talking paper clip.
I asked the Person,  "Do you have a name, besides Person?  And ... are you ... uh ..."  I groped for the words in Iemy.  "Are you alive; are you ... conscious?  Or just a ... um ... just a computer program?"

"I had a name.  I was ... or I am ... Sniggles the Redactor.  As to whether I'm just a computer program, you will have to judge for yourself.  I can tell you that I am aware.  But even if I were nothing more than a recording of Sniggles, I would tell you the same thing, for that is what she would have said."

Before anyone could ask anything more, there was an interruption.  My gaze had wandered to the ocean which appeared to be hanging above us.  The waves directly above were just a blur, going by too fast to pick out any details.  But off to the sides, far enough away from the ship so they didn't seem to be going so fast, I could see the wave crests zooming past.   To the front, they were rushing at us, tearing across the "sky" toward us; it was an incredible sight.  Whether it was because we were flying low, or because we really were going very fast, they seemed to be coming at us faster than I'd ever seen anything move.  It looked a little like a huge version of Niagara Falls, but falling sideways, and run on fast-forward.  And out the back ... out the back, there was something very strange going on.
"We're being followed!" I cried.  For, some distance behind us, there was a wall of spray flying up from the surface of the sea -- a wall of spray that was holding its distance, not gaining on us, but not falling behind, either.  Some sort of boat -- some large boat -- was apparently throwing up a huge wash in the effort of keeping with us!

Nim-nim, who was lying on a cushion next to me, glanced up at the wall of spray, yawned, and murmured "Shock wave".  Oh! Of course, it wasn't a "boat" at all, and nobody was following us -- I felt pretty silly.  But then, wait.... we were producing a shock wave?  "How fast are we going?" I asked.

Nim-nim made an interested sort of "Mrrrrooowwr" noise, looked up again, and this time gazed steadily at our "backwash" for quite a while. "Angle to touch point about 1/26 ... make sine about 1/5 ... "  then she paused.  "Looks like Mach 5."  Between base 12 and her use of circumferences instead of radians I usually have trouble following Nim-nim's math, but even I could see we must be going faster than sound.  Our shock wave was hitting the water 'way out in back of us, so it must have been peeling off from the ship at a lot less than 45 degrees.

Dad, who'd been listening, looked startled.  "Felicia, maybe, slow down a bit, before Scotland?   Mach 5, we're just 500 feet up, we'll break windows."  He thought a moment, and added, "Actually, Mach 5, more like knock down buildings."

Mom sighed.  "Sure, sure, but I still haven't had lunch.  Going slower, it'll be even longer before we get some real food on this ship."

Star Date 7.72

It was likely to be a while before we got to Scotland, especially if Mom slowed down, and I decided to head down to "my room" and get some things I wanted to take on the shopping trip.

Have I told you about my room -- or, rather, my cabin?  I don't think I have!

It's about fifteen feet square, and like most of the ship, it's the color of slightly old vanilla ice cream. There's not all that much in it. There's a sort of table or shelf thing near the door, and I had flashlights and batteries, my camera, my flute, some papers, hats, and spare socks on top of it. I also had clothes, shoes, and stuff underneath it, along with my guitar. The so-called "bed" is just a bunch of cushions pushed together and wrapped in a sheet. There were a few other things stacked along the walls -- a chess set, some books, a few decks of cards, that kind of stuff.  I'd tried to stow things pretty neatly, but without a bureau or even a closet it always looks a little haphazard. And, of course, like all the rooms here, there's no door!  Dad had hung a heavy curtain across the doorway, on my cabin and in the doorway across the hall which opens on the cabin he and Mom are using, so it was sort of OK anyway.

But this time, when I got to my room, things were different ... No curtains in the doorways, to start with!  Someone -- or something -- had torn them down.  And when I looked in my room, I gasped -- it was like somebody had stirred everything in it with a giant spoon. My bed was gone; it was reduced to loose pillows tossed in the corners, with the bedding fetched up against the wall. The table thing was empty; flashlights, batteries, hats, shoes, socks, clothes, flute, had all been thrown across the room.  I didn't see the guitar at all -- if it was still in the room, it must have been stuck under something. Furthermore, I realized there was a lot of junk from Mom and Dad's room mixed in with my stuff as well. And in a far corner, in a sort of knot, I found the missing "door curtains". They were wrapped around something small but heavy, in a tangled mess. I unwound them, and found the heavy thing was the battery from an uninterruptible power supply; it must have come from a stack of Dad's stuff.  I wondered if its weight had torn the curtains down when it was thrown into my room, as it seemed to have been -- but it must have weighed fifteen pounds!  Had it been fired from a cannon?   I was appalled -- who, or what, could have done this?  Did we have a raving lunatic on board?  But surely none of the cats could have done this; they're just not strong enough!

And then I realized what had happened.  Nobody had done this!  The whole ship had been "shaken and stirred" back before we hit the ocean, and I hadn't been back to my cabin since! Apparently Mom and Dad also had been busy since then, or at any rate they hadn't been down here to clean up.  What a mess...

I would have to sort this out later, after the shopping trip. Right now, though, I wanted some fresher clothes, my wallet, and my camera, so I started digging.

Ten minutes later, I'd found several socks in assorted colors, a pair of purple Bermuda shorts, a mostly orange Hawaiian shirt, and some clean underwear.  I'd also found what looked like part of my camera -- whoops!  Time to drop in on a photo store, I think!  I wonder if they've got one in Duntard?

At that point I decided I'd better get moving, if I didn't want to miss the landing.

I called to my boss, Mince, "C'mon, we should get back to the bridge!"  She was helping me find stuff by attempting to fish a marble out from under a pile of cushions.  Of course, she'd shoved it under there herself, just a couple minutes earlier, so the "help" being provided was kind of limited.  Cats just don't take our human problems with clothing, bedding, and messes very seriously.

Star Date 7.75

When we got back to the Bridge, the dome was still transparent, and things looked strange. It was almost dark and kind of greenish directly over us, and the light coming in from the sides it was sort of gray. All I could see above us was water, mostly smooth straight up, but the surface off to the sides was dull; dark and non-reflective. It took me a moment to realize the "dull" surface was actually pocked with multitudes of tiny dents: There was rain pouring up from "below" all around. We were in a downpour ... or, should I say an uppour!

Mom glanced briefly up at us as Mince and I came in, and then looked again, a lot longer the second time. "Are you going out like that?"

"It's all I could find. Have you been to our cabins since everything got shaken up? It's a categorical disaster down there -- it looks like a platoon of drunken burglars ransacked the place!"

"You'll freeze like that! Look at the weather! And what if we meet Aunt Eternuechat?   Goodness, Isis, your socks don't even match!"

But before Mom could say anything more, something vaguely dark loomed down from the sheets of rising water in front of us. "Whoops!" she said, turning back to the controls. "Looks like we need a little more altitude!" Before she could do anything about it, the dark "something" had resolved itself into something mountainous and very solid looking, hanging from the ocean above us.

The Stornoway Ferry, as viewed with busted gyros
Stornoway Ferry
This is more precisely called the Stornoway-Ullapool ferry, and the particular ship shown here is the Suilven.  (The weather in this photo is much clearer than the weather in our story, but since Isis's camera was in pieces at the time we'll have to be content with this.)  For a rather remarkable view of this rugged vessel in heavy weather, check out this video.
"Ohmigosh it's the Stornoway ferry!"  Mom exclaimed, frantically pushing buttons.  There was a sudden rumble from the engines and everything out the windows seemed to slide sideways as she dodged the ferry.  As usual, with the gravity on, I couldn't "feel" us move; it was like we were just watching the world on an Imax screen, rather than looking out through a transparent dome. But there was one big difference -- just now, the world was watching us right back!  I don't think the dome cleared the ferry by more than a foot, and the whole ferry must have been out of the rain for a while, under the rim of the saucer.  Pretty astonishing, I'm sure, for those aboard -- like some magical umbrella appeared over the whole boat for a while. The handful of hardy souls who were braving the storm on the observation deck found themselves looking us directly in the eyes.  I have never seen such astonished expressions in my life!  What's more, at least one of them had a camera and quick wits; the whole bridge was briefly lit by a high powered flash gun.

After dodging the ferry, we continued on the way we'd been going;  I think it was southeast.  Without any sun visible it was hard to tell, and Mom hadn't told me what the route was -- she'd been too busy to talk a lot about it.  I went over and sat down at what I'd come to think of as "my" screen.  Mince curled up on my lap.  For quite a while, nothing happened; the view out the dome continued to be nothing but rain, falling endlessly up into the "superior ocean".

"Mom, where are we?" I finally asked.

"Just entering Loch Broom.  We'll be coming up on Campbellton soon enough, and then it's east, up over the hills, and on to Loch Dunvite."  She paused.  "I hope we don't meet any traffic in the Straits.  I really wish we were doing this at night."

"Maybe", said Dad.  "But then, the military -- this way, flying low, during the day, we blend in, we're just another ship"

"Blend in too well -- more like fuse with another ship if we're not careful!" Mom was hitting buttons again.  A shadow had started to darken in the walls of rain, but this time she ducked around it before we could see what it was, and presumably before they, whoever they were, could see what we were.

The rain was coming down -- or up -- harder than ever, and I couldn't see anything around us but water.  We apparently got through the straits OK, but I couldn't tell when we went through.  At the narrowest point the loch is still nearly half a kilometer wide, and in the driving rain it might as well have been half a parsec across for all I could see of the shoreline.

We must have flown in along with the storm, for once we turned south beyond the straits, the rain slackened, and we could see some blue sky breaking through the overcast off to the west.  In a few minutes, Mom announced that we were passing Campbellton (how she knew, I can't say), and turned us toward the shore.  Her screen showed the diagram that let her adjust the "pull" blocking (or anti-gravity, as most people would call it), and she raised the ship slightly as we went up on shore.  There was a road along the shore but I didn't see anyone on it when we crossed.  We were entering what seemed to be a narrow valley, and we were soon skimming over what looked to me like a mostly dry river bed.  Mom had sped up again as the rain let up, and directly overhead, I couldn't see much except a greenish blur.  There were hills on either side, and now and again we'd pass below -- or, really, above -- a stand of trees, but the blurry view of the landscape I was getting seemed pretty barren.  But maybe it just seemed that way to me because there weren't lots of houses; this region could never be described as "thickly settled".  "We're certainly below anybody's radar in here!" Mom remarked.

In a few minutes, we turned left again and headed upslope, and suddenly we were going a lot faster.  "We may be a little exposed here -- I want to get through this ASAP" Mom murmured, as the rumble of the engines increased.  I didn't say anything; my eyes were glued to the landscape, which seemed to be plunging down on us like an upside down version of one of those crazy race scenes from Star Wars, rocketing across our sky -- she was certainly not wasting any time.  I hoped there weren't any cell phone towers in these parts -- we'd clip it for sure if one was on our path!

"Better keep it subsonic" I heard Dad say.  "Might be some houses around here, and they probably value their windows."

But as quickly as we started up the slope, we were past it.  We continued on at the height of the mountain peak, and the landscape retreated far "above" us.  A valley opened out, and directly over us I could see the sparkle of water.  "There it is -- Loch Donevite!" Mom said.  "It's been so long since I've been here I wasn't sure I could find my way back."  I realized then that I hadn't seen her use the GPS unit at all since we got to Loch Broom.  I guess she just knew the way!

On the north shore of the Loch, the land rose again, and that's where we seemed to be headed.  It was a wide slope, covered with trees of some sort -- they looked like pine trees to me, but anything with needles on it looks like a pine tree to me!  Maybe they were Scotch pines.  Mom appeared to be aiming for the middle of the forest, which seemed like a strange place to try to land a starship.  I was just wondering if she planned to stop at treetop level and have us all shinny down the trees when we got out, when I realized there was a clearing in front of us.  It looked like it was pretty level, and might be large enough to hold the whole ship.

As we approached, the sky -- what we could see of it, off to the sides -- was blotted out by the approaching woodland.  Soon our entire "sky" was filled with the clearing, which was directly "above" us -- and it was dark, as well, as our shadow covered everything.  "Can't see a thing -- where's the ground, anyway?" I heard Mom mutter to herself.  The question was answered with a sudden crunch!, and a shudder which ran through the ship.

"I guess we're down!" she said.  "Food, here we come!"

Star Date 7.8

There were six of us in the "landing party":  Mom and Dad, me, and three cats.  Mom was the only one who knew the country here, so she had to go, and she wanted human help with carrying groceries, so Dad and I were going along as well.  We hadn't originally planned to bring any of the cats along.

But the Captain had had other notions.  As we were about to leave the Bridge, the Captain had suddenly said, "Snidly!  Wake up and go with them!"  Snidly, who had been snoozing in the space under one of the control desks, looked at the Captain and said, slowly, in English, "Whyyyyy?   Humans need help carrying baaaaaagzzzzzz?  Think not", and closed his eyes again.

"Snidly!  Wake UP!" was the Captain's reply, followed by a few words in Iemy which I hadn't heard him use since the gravity cut out.  "You won't carry bags!  You are the security officer.  So go with them, and make sure they're secure!"

He looked at Mince.  "Ařheai!  Yn iehyarj ařha yřnarfu otariř!"  That is, "Mince!  Do Snidly with yřnarfu help!"  I had no idea what this meant, since I'd never heard of yřnarfu before -- I didn't know whether it was a procedure, a thing, a substance ...  Whatever, I supposed I'd find out soon enough.  He added, "Snidly, meet Felix at hatch 5."

Snidly sauntered off the bridge and disappeared down one of the low side corridors which only a cat can get through, while we three humans headed back to our quarters so Mom and Dad could pick up some things -- or at least try to find a few things in the mess -- and so I could look for a coat.

Searching for my coat was boring and unproductive.  No coat turned up, and I ended up with a blanket wrapped around my shoulders. Mom and Dad found a few shopping bags, but their luck finding outdoor clothing wasn't much better than mine.  Dad had a pair of ear muffs, Mom had found some heavy gloves, and they'd both found sweaters, but none of us had an actual coat.  If it rained again, we were just going to get wet.

Despite wasting a lot of time not finding things, we still got to hatch 5 long before Snidly.  The corridor, which was slightly curved, ran parallel to the rim of the saucer here, and the hatch was a large sort of door thing set in the floor.  When we opened it, it split in pieces which folded back into the floor, leaving an opening about seven feet across, with a "cat ladder" projecting down into the hatch.  And looking down the ladder, and down below the ladder ... there wasn't any ground.  There was nothing to see, nothing but clear blue visible out the hatch, since "down" was still pointing in the wrong direction.  I shuddered.  Dad chuckled,  "Now we know how Barzai the Wise felt, just before he fell into the sky!"  I didn't see anything to chuckle over here, and I had no idea who Barzai the Wise was, but the description was right on -- that's exactly how I felt, looking out that door:  I was about to fall into the sky.  It made me dizzy-- to step through, it appeared, would be to fall forever.

But in any case we weren't going anywhere until Snidly appeared.  So, we sat down by the open door and waited.  And something strange started happening:  The opening seemed to fog up.  It was so slight, if I'd had anything to do besides sit and stare at the sky below us, I'd never have noticed it.  Something was "hazing over" our view out the door.  Before I got anywhere thinking what it might be, Snidly arrived, along with two other cats -- two huge orange cats whom I'd never seen.  Snidly seemed to have an infinite number of huge orange friends -- I guess they were his "security staff".  I hadn't known he was bringing anybody else along on this trip, but I guess he'd decided that if he was going to provide "security" on our shopping trip, he'd do it right, and bring along a couple of his thugs for extra protection.  What surprised me, though, was that all three of the cats were "dressed":  They were wearing wide, dull black collars.  I'd never seen any of the People wear anything, and I'd certainly never seen them wearing collars.

"Oh, hello, Snidly.  Who're your friends?" Dad asked.

I figured Snidly would just give Dad the furry eyeball, the way he did to me when I asked him questions he thought were impertinent, but either Snidly was feeling mellow or Dad carries more weight.  "Iafououtui fey yleai" he said, in Iemy, and then added, "Ooorrřřř, as yooou would sayyy, Staggerzzz and Dents."

"We've been wondering how to get out of here without breaking our necks", Dad observed.  "Looks like a long way down."

Snidly made a sort of a snorting noise.  "Out of ship, down is up.  Otherwise air would fall off."  He looked at Staggers.  "Iafououtui, yn yluio ymu uelařiř.  Yn ardiř ok!" .. that is, "Staggers, jump through the door.  Jump high!"  I didn't see what the point in jumping high might be, but that sure sounded like what he said.

Without a moment's hesitation, Staggers jumped.  In a high arcing leap, he sailed about half way across the gap before falling through the open hatch.  And then, something strange happened -- as soon as he passed through the hatch, he started twisting in the air, so that he was falling back first, not feet first ... but then, his "fall" arced back on itself, so suddenly he was falling up -- falling back toward the ship!  He landed feet first, with a faint 'thump', on the outside of the hull, and stood there, upside down, looking back at us.  And then he sneezed.  It was the first sound he'd made since arriving.

Snidly followed; he also made a high, arcing jump, which turned into an impossible "S" curve, and brought him out onto the hull next to Staggers.  Finally Dense jumped -- but he didn't jump as high, or as far, and ended up catching the edge of the doorway with his front feet, but his back feet fell back "up" through the hatch. He scrabbled at the air for a moment, doing a sort of strange dance -- as soon as his feet came back in through the hatch, they were drawn "down" again by their weight -- and in a moment he had scrambled "down" onto the outer hull with the other two cats.  As he stood up on the hull, he sneezed.

"Commmmingggg?" Snidly meowed, looking back at the three of us left inside.

"Well that looked like fun!" said Mom, and dove head first out of the open hatch, just as Dad said "Well that looked like a great way to get a broken neck!" and started to climb down the cat ladder.  Mom landed on the outer hull -- somehow! -- and Dad managed to scramble onto the hull, and there I was looking at the other five of them.

I took a deep breath, told myself it was going to be easier than diving into a swimming pool, and jumped.

Everything went fine ... for about the first 30 milliseconds.  Then my feet started falling back up toward the rest of me, while my head was still falling down toward the hatch, my body decided all on its own that it wanted to twist around ... and then my head went through the hatch and suddenly down and up became up and down, and my stomach decided it wanted to be someplace else. And it's about then that I realized I hadn't jumped far enough, and I wasn't ending up on the outside of the hatch, nor on the inside of the hatch ... I was kind of in the middle.

But not stationary, not at all.  As soon as I was outside the hull, I fell back to the hatch, and through, and then as soon as I was in the corridor I was falling back to the hatch.... "Oh Help!" I yelled, as I found myself stuck on what was almost a perfect trampoline:  No energy lost to anything except the air, so I could bounce like this practically forever!  Each time I popped out of the hatch, I could see the three cats watching my "performance" with great interest.  Cats, what can I say ... anything that moves, they like to watch...

It seemed like forever, but it couldn't really have been more than a minute or two before wind resistance reduced my bouncing to a "wiggle" of a few inches.  And at that point, I found myself stuck in the middle of the hatch, floating in the air, with my stomach doing a flip-flop every time my head, and inner ear, passed through the plane of the hatch, and "up" and "down" flipped again...  and then I started sneezing.  Suddenly I realized what the haze was which I'd seen forming in the hatch: It was cat hair mixed with dust.  Everything outside was falling "up" to the hatchway, everything inside was falling "down" to it, and anything that made it into the hatchway just stayed there.  So, in the exact plane where gravity flipped, a thin layer of hair, dust, pollen, and general crud was accumulating -- and now I had joined the "dust plane", as well.  Ick!

I was just thinking that this is how it must feel to be a carpet, with all the dust in the room landing on you, when I noticed a hand waving in front of my face.  "Isis!  Take my hand!" Mom was saying. I looked around and realized she was stretched out, "lying" in the opening, with Dad holding her feet.  I took her hand, and she pulled me to the side of the hatch.  Getting out was weird, a little like climbing out of a swimming pool, but drier.

The bottom of the ship was flat, and smooth, with no rivet heads, nor any sign of seams or plates.  It appeared to have been cast as a single flat disk hundreds of feet in diameter.  I had no idea what it was made of.  Like most of the inside of the ship, it was the color of slightly stale vanilla ice cream.  Aside from the hatch we'd come out through, the only visible break in the smooth expanse was what looked like a big pile of loudspeakers sticking out of the middle of the disk.  I think they may have been rocket nozzles of some sort.

But right now, the six of us were nowhere near the nozzles.  We were at the edge of the disk, looking down at the clearing below us.  The top side of the saucer -- which was now underneath -- was convex, which meant that looking down over the edge, it was a sheer drop to the ground, with nothing to climb down on.  I don't know how high we were -- fifty feet, a hundred feet? -- but it was much too high for us humans to risk a jump, even onto soft grass.  And even if the cats could have jumped it, they would have had no way to get back up.

The clearing wasn't all that much bigger than the ship.  The trees began a hundred yards or so from where we were standing, and the landscape sloped steeply up under its blanket of evergreens.  It looked like we were a mile or two from the top of the hill.  Crowning it was a castle -- like, a big pile of stone left over from the Middle Ages, with towers and turrets and crenells and stuff, and I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised to see a pennon floating in the breeze over top of it.  But in fact it looked kind of deserted, and a big part of it looked like it had collapsed.

"We're not getting down this way", Dad commented. ''So let's try a topside hatch.  There may be something there we can use..."  He trailed off, and I'm not sure what he was thinking of.  And so the six of us traipsed back to the hatch, for the lovely experience of scrambling back through the impossible reversing gravity.  The cats dove through nonchalantly, but all three of us humans crawled down/up the cat ladder this time.

Star Date 7.82

Dad had led the way to the topside hatch, and in fact it was the entrance he had first found back when the ship was still buried in the sand.  It was also the one we'd come in through when we boarded the ship back in Africa.  The corridor here was kind of sandy -- whatever else may have been true of this spaceship, it didn't seem to be self-cleaning.  Too bad!

This hatch opened in the ceiling of the corridor.  There were cat ladders on the walls leading up to it, and there were a couple of heavy duty step ladders lying on the floor a dozen yards down the corridor.  I guessed that the stepladders may have been left leaning on the wall by the hatch, but after the shaking up we took it was surprising they were even in the same neighborhood.  On the wall, next to one of the cat ladders, the inscription was still there:  "Ařt zfea enz onařt oun."  Someone must have scrawled it on the wall thousands of years ago, when the cats were abandoning the ship.  I think it was the first Iemy text Dad ever saw.

While Mom and Dad retrieved one of the stepladders, Snidly scurried up one of the cat ladders and opened the hatch.  And then he dropped back to the floor, and we all stood and looked out, and wondered what to do next.  Or at any rate, that's what I did.  The ground was visible, straight "up" from where we were standing.  If things were the same here as they'd been at the other hatch, then as soon as we crossed into the outside, gravity would reverse, and it would be a straight fall to the ground.  And it was still much too far down for any non-felids to want to make that drop -- and there was no obvious way to get back up, even if we could jump down.  As far as I could see, we were stuck.

Then Dad did something completely unexpected (by me, anyway).  He yelled, "Sniggles!"  And then he just stood there.

A minute or two went by, and nothing further happened.  I was beginning to think that whatever Dad had in mind, it wasn't going to work, when there was a flicker of light up near the ceiling.  I looked up, and for the first time noticed that there were smaller versions of the camera-like things that were on the bridge.  There were several of them on each side of the corridor, in the corner between the ceiling and the wall.  And they were all flickering now.

I don't suppose any of us were especially surprised when, a moment later, Sniggles appeared in the middle of the corridor.  She took a quick look around, looked at Dad, and said (in Iemy), "You wish to disembark?"


Sniggles looked up at the ground hanging over us, looked around at the six of us, said "Need to form pull tunnel.  Need to use bridge controls", and vanished.

A couple of minutes later, Mom and Dad were by the wall, and the cats had flopped on the floor just down the hall from us.  A number of other cats were visible farther down the hall -- I suppose they had come along just to see the show.  I was standing directly under the hatch, looking up at the grass some tens of feet over my head, when a faint pink glow suddenly appeared -- rather, a faintly glowing pink tube formed, leading "up" from where I was standing, apparently all the way to the ground.  The tube was transparent; in fact the only thing visible about it was the pink glow.  But I didn't spend much time admiring it, because my stomach was suddenly trying to climb up through my throat.  I couldn't feel the floor under my feet, and my inner ear screamed at me that I was falling!

But I wasn't falling -- I was, in fact, drifting up from the floor, very slowly.  The pink glowing tube seemed to start just about where I was.  I reached out to the walls of the tube.  There was something there all right, but it felt really strange -- it was kind of squishy, but solid-feeling, when I pushed on it.  And that was all I could tell to start with, because as soon as I pushed on it I rebounded toward the other side of the tube.  As I got close to that side, I reach out to fend myself off, and this time I could feel that the tube also seemed incredibly slick -- I could feel it if I pushed on it, but if I slid my hand along it, or tried to pinch it, it felt like nothing.

But I didn't think about that much at the time, either, because I was drifting farther and farther from the deck.  If I didn't stop somehow I was going to be out of the ship in just another few seconds.  "Help!!" I yelled.

"Isis!" I heard Mom yell back, and suddenly I felt a hand grabbing my ankle.  "I've got you!" she said, and then, quoting Dad, she said, "Oops!" as her feet left the floor.  We were now both drifting toward the ceiling, and I was almost at the hatch.

"Felicia!"  I heard Dad yell.  Oh, no, he won't... I thought ... but he did.  "Oops!" I heard Dad say, from quite some distance below me.  Looking down, I could see that we formed a sort of family chain, Dad holding Mom's ankle, and Mom holding my ankle.  And none of us were contact with the floor.

By this time I had drifted completely out through the hatch.  Lucky for me, nothing special happened at the entrance; the pink tube looked like it went all the way to the ground, and so far there seemed to be no gravity at all anywhere inside it.

Looking down past Mom and Dad, what little of the corridor floor I could see appeared to be covered with cats.  I guess, when we started to disappear out the hatch, it was just too much for them -- they had to come and get a closer look.  About this time, Sniggles must have reappeared, because I heard her call, "Felix!  Felicia!  Isis!  You'll never get down like that!  You must jump when you enter tube!"

Fine time to tell us, I thought.  We had by now come to a complete stop.  I was hanging in the air, upside down, a few feet below the ship.  Mom, holding my ankle, was in the hatch.  Dad was still inside the ship.  And none of us were going anywhere any time soon, as far as I could see.  There was absolutely no purchase on the inner surface of the tube, and there was nothing else within reach.

I was just starting to wonder if we were ever going to get lunch.  On the other hand, I was also thinking that with all this unexpected free-falling we were doing, maybe it was just as well I hadn't eaten anything in a while...  and then I heard what sounded like Nim-nim, talking to another cat.  Looking down through the hatch, I could see a mass of cats on the floor, all around the pipe.  Apparently Nim-nim had joined the crowd.  I heard Snidly also, talking to Nim-nim, and then I heard Snidly say, "Staggers!  Jump -- jump hard -- jump to Felix, and grab him.  That will get them down."

"No! No don't!  Don't do that!" I heard Dad yell, and then I heard him saying to Mom, "Felicia, just scrunch down, and then shove off, hard, on my shoulders!"

"OK, I get it, but won't that hurt?  I don't want to bruise your shoulders," Mom replied.

"It won't hurt anything like getting grabbed by Staggers in full flight!  Do it quick or he may decide to jump anyway!"

I felt Mom pulling on my ankle as she "scrunched down", and then there was a sudden push as she shoved off.  We started moving, and continued moving at a stately pace down the tube.  As the ship receded I heard the Captain's voice on the intercom, saying something that might have been a Iemy expression for "shore leave".

At the bottom of the tube, very weak gravity replaced the "no gravity at all" in the rest of the tube, and that helped with landing.  There was also some soft grass there, which was a good thing, since I was landing head down.  Cats never have this problem...  I caught myself on my hands, flipped over, and Mom came barreling down almost on top of me; both of us managed to avoid bouncing back up the tube, and neither of us got hurt.  We both scrambled out from under the end of the tube, and my stomach bounced again as we suddenly found ourselves in normal weight.  A moment later, Dad touched down with a grunt.  He sat up, rubbing one of his wrists, looked up the tube, and suddenly bounded out of the way, just as Staggers came shooting down the tube, feet first.  Snidly followed.  And then ... Dense came caroming down the tube!  I guess Dense had jumped into the tube crosswise, hit the wall and pushed off, hit the other wall harder and pushed off harder, and by the time he got to the bottom of the tube he was practically a blur, bouncing back and forth between the walls.  When he reached the point where the wall ended, he suddenly shot off across the clearing, landing about fifteen feet away from the rest of us.  He shook himself as he got up, but seemed none the worse for the "rattling" he'd just been through.

After Dense, a positive avalanche of cats came down the tube.  They'd all been cooped up in the ship for days, and I guess everybody wanted some fresh air and time with the trees and flowers and chirping birds and stuff.

Star Date 7.83

The cats on shore leave had melted away, vanishing into the long grass of the clearing, or heading off into the woods.  We six who were to go shopping were still standing under the edge of the saucer, debating what to do next.  I wasn't paying that much attention to the conversation, though; I was looking up at the ship -- I had never seen it before from the outside, except for our brief excursion on the underside half an hour before.  When we boarded it, it was still almost entirely buried in the sand.  And now that I finally saw it, I was, like, totally overwhelmed.  Seen from underneath like this, the Erfout Eetjney looked immense -- like a scoop of slightly off-color vanilla ice cream, but sized for a god.  We were close to the edge; when I looked toward the middle of the ship, where the hull curved down to meet the Earth, I could see the dome of the Bridge, still transparent but now partly obscured by some bushes and short trees.  But it was far enough off that I couldn't tell if anyone was still there, or if the whole crew had disembarked after us.  When I looked up at the hull hanging some dozens of feet above us, and looked out toward the edge, I realized that it wasn't completely smooth and featureless, as I'd thought at first.  Though there were no seams or anything like rivets, in a number of places around the ship there were things that looked sort of like floodlights sticking out of it.  There seemed to be several concentric rings of them, with the outermost ring apparently perched right at the edge of the saucer.  I had no idea what they might do.

But I was the only one "sight seeing".  Mom and Dad were completely caught up in the debate over how to get the groceries back to the ship.  The problem was that we needed supplies to last us a month or more, the nearest store was at least a couple miles away, and we had no transportation.  What's worse, there wasn't any road here, and while Mom had a pretty good idea of which way to go, carrying groceries back through the trackless forest was not going to be fun.

Dad was proposing that we just head to the nearest town, and find someone who could help with getting the supplies back to the ship.  "We just can't do it ourselves" he was saying.  "We've got to get some help."  Mom, on the other hand, wasn't enthusiastic about having the grocery store's delivery truck come up to the ship.  First, because there wasn't any road, and second, because her family was already viewed as a bit eccentric by the local people; if they were known to have a flying saucer parked practically in their back yard, it would just be too much.  And it wasn't just any flying saucer; it was an (obviously) upside down flying saucer.  Like, her family can't even be eccentric in the normal way -- they always have to be different.  If they'd been pure blood Scots from forever-ago it might have been different, but since part of the family came from Brittany... anyway, she really wanted to keep the landing secret.

"Wow," I said.  "This is tough.  We need help, but we can't go to anybody to get it without blowing our secret.  Seems like we need a Hero to come and rescue us -- like, it's time for a White Knight to come charging in and save the day or something..."

No sooner had I spoken than we all heard the the unmistakable "clippety-clippety" sound of cantering hooves coming from the woods.  They were getting louder fast; whatever it was, it was coming directly toward us.

Continued in Shopping Trip, Part III


Page created on 04/25/2010.  Minor corrections, and addition of next page, on 1/1/2011.