ABC Shorts: Caitlin O’Riley…

[A bit early for St. Patrick’s Day, but what the heck…there was plenty of Guinness and Jameson imbibed yesterday!]

Caitlin O’Riley

Copyright 2018, A. B. Carolan

The shuttle from the starship Brendan touched down in the forest clearing. Security personnel were first out; Dr. Carlos Obregon was the last to leave. He’d wangled a trip from the captain because he needed some fresh air and the new planet seemed mysteriously beckoning to his aging eyes.

“Looks like ancient Humans’ idea of paradise,” he said to no one in particular as the plodded along the perimeter of the camp security was already setting up.

“Doc, you never know what might await us in that forest,” said a member of the security team.

Obregon nodded.  He spotted the twelve-year-old on the other side of the clearing.  “Where’s that kid’s father?  He acts like he owns this place.”

“He just about does,” said one of the exobiologists.  “I still have my doubts about this whole process.”

Obregon wasn’t the only one who was an unusual presence in the landing team.  He had read the files available on the solar system and the planet, although they were about two centuries old.  The Space Exploration Bureau rarely returned to a potential colony world unless some group wanting to colonize had enough leverage to convince SEB to do otherwise and make a more complete survey.  Joran Kilgud led such a group.  He had insisted on accompanying them—not unheard of but unusual—and had brought his son Yindon.

“Hey, kid, stay within the security perimeter!” Obregon looked at the urchin and frowned.

“But I want to explore!”

Turned out that Joran was helping the security detail establish the perimeter. I’ll give the old autocrat that, he thought.  He pitches in.

“I recommend you wait until you’re father’s free.”

Yindon ran toward his father. “Can I explore, father?”

“Dr. Obregon is right, son. Wait until I’m finished here.  We’ll both go exploring then.”

Obregon smiled. The father seemed level-headed; the boy was like all boys. But the doctor didn’t think anyone should be exploring so soon after landing on the planet.

He decided he’d better start unloading medical supplies from the shuttle. They would soon have the hospital tent up.  He was already missing his quarters on Brendan.  You have to be careful what you wish for.

***

Like many pioneers, Kilgud’s group was fleeing the more populated worlds of the Interstellar Trade Union of Independent Planets, better known as ITUIP.  As far as Obregon knew, the group were all Humans, something he objected too because it often led to planetary xenophobia as an isolated colony worried more about their own future and welfare rather than the future and welfare of near-Earth planets as a whole.  Gilgud’s group practiced pantheism, which Obregon considered a strange religion—the believers deified all of nature.  I wonder what they eat?  Although he could imagine and had seen worst cults, Obregon expected planet SB1167 to become provincial too, a colony out-of-touch with the mainstream.

As he took out the last crate of medical supplies, he saw Gilgud father and son enter the woods.  The father was carrying a long rifle. Obregon hoped he wouldn’t shoot something in front of the boy.  But not likely because they must be vegetarian.  He hadn’t noticed aboard Brendan.  In fact, he’d avoided the two.

***

Obregon was helping set up tents when Joran Kilgud returned carrying Yindon in his arms.

“Doc, I need some help here!”

Obregon unfolded a cot and placed the boy on it. “What happened?” He was already taking the child’s vitals.

“A little man appeared and put a spell on Yindon.”

Obregon smiled.  “Littl man?  A spell?  What the hell does that mean?”

“He pointed a finger at Yindon, there was a sizzle, and my son fell.  I covered him with my body to protect him from any further discharge.”

“Where’s your gun?”

“I must have dropped it.”

“And your attacker?”

“He ran away.”

“Maybe you two aren’t the first colonists here,” said Obregon.  Or maybe you’re just crazy in a new way?  He peered into the child’s eyes and noted that their whites were now yellow. The pupils were enlarged too, and the irises had become emerald green. “Probably a weapon of some kind.”

“He just used his index finger, I swear.”

“Was that little man green?  Your son is turning light green.  Either he’s very sick, or that so-called spell produces a weird skin color.”

“As a matter of fact, the little man’s skin was green.”

***

The boy’s condition stabilized but didn’t improve. Obregon told security to go find the little green man. They were professionals, so they didn’t question the request…at least, not verbally.  Three hours later they returned with a little green woman. Given the pointy ears and yellow eyes, Obregon knew he was dealing with a new group of ETs. ITUIP won’t permit colonization here after all, he thought. Sorry, Joral.  But, for the moment, that was irrelevant to the present situation.

He examined the ET, planning to put the little woman under and install the implant that would eventually allow them to communicate.  While security people restrained her, he examined her head to decide where to place the device.  The big ears will complicate things.

But he discovered that the woman already had an implant.  Of course.  How do you communicate with new civilizations efficiently?  You get an AI to learn both languages and then translate.

He asked a specialist to analyze the ET device’s signal.

“Frequency-hopped spread spectrum signal similar to ours.  Smaller device, but more powerful.  She’s probably in contact with her people.  They’re technologically advanced, Carlos.”

He nodded.  “Saves me some work.  And it’s always challenging cutting into an unknown ET body.  Set her up.  Get our AI to match the signals, and then it can start learning the ET’s language and teaching her ours.  With our help and her cooperation, of course.”

Security let Obregon lead the interrogation.

“Hello!”

He pointed to his mouth, then hers. She had to speak so the AI could learn their language. It was a tedious process and recalled the history of Humans’ first contact long ago on New Haven when Human colonists struggled to communicate with ETs there. After several days, they were doing well.

At first, the ET had been scared.  Because her name in her language was unpronounceable, Obregon called her Caitlin O’Riley, the last name in deference to the security guard who had captured her.

***

Caitlin was super-intelligent and curious. Obregon learned that her group were colonists too, their home world far out at the galaxy’s edges in another spiral arm. She reversed the “spell” on Yindon, and he soon recovered and became friends with Caitlin.

“Maybe you should return to your people,” Obregon said one day as he had tea with Caitlin and Yindon.  Although the ET had a spare heart, hands with one thumb and three fingers, and other physical differences, Caitlin seemed almost Human and enjoyed their drink and food.  She was fond of tea. “We’ll soon be leaving this planet. Master Gilgud will have to find another world to colonize.  Your people were here first.”

She nodded. “We appreciate that.  I should apologize to him, though. I already have to Yindon.” She nodded at her friend, but her pointed ears had already turned toward him, telegraphing the gesture.  “My father Liftwon didn’t mean to do Yindon any harm, but Humans are large and have always seemed threatening to us.”

Obregon thought about that a moment. “Our peoples have met before?”

“Centuries ago, measured in your standard years. Perhaps on your home planet? Legend has it that during times of famine, your people would take unwanted babies into the woods and leave them there. We always took pity on them and raised them as our own, but we learned how to change them to look like us. Your people called them Changelings, a pejorative term.  We decided that it was better not to share colony planets, so we left.  I’m told that since that time, we have avoided you, even when you expanded into the galaxy.”

“We have the same practice about co-colonizing, as you know, although a colony world with diverse ETs can petition to join ITUIP if they’re all in agreement. Can you give me more details about that ancient colony?”

“It was on a very large, green island in the second largest ocean of a blue planet, a water-world, unlike this one.  It was a beautiful land, if the legends are true.”

Obregon made a square out of his hands to frame her face.  Could it be?

***

Caitlin and her father Liftwon decided to accompany the Brendan to the nearest ITUIP planet. They thought it was time for the two groups to mingle together once again, without fear and in cooperation.  Obregon thought that was a good idea.  Near-Earth space might become considerably larger but also more crowded!

***

Note from Steve: You have just finished reading a Dr. Carlos story written by A. B. Carolan.  I’ve always wanted to be part of a collaboration like Preston and Child for thrillers and Niven and Pournelle for sci-fi. I’ve attempted that a few times; for various reasons, it didn’t work out.  Now I have teamed up with A. B.  He will be managing all our young adult books and I’ll become more of a consultant for them.  He’ll rewrite and reedit a second edition of The Secret Lab to start with, for example, and write The Secret of the Urns, both sci-fi mysteries for young adults and adult readers who are young-at-heart.  The latter will be based on my short story “Marcello and Me,” which appears in the collection Pasodobles in a Quantum Stringscape.

The A. B. makes sense when you consider his full name.  Alsandair Breandan Carolan is rumored to be a descendant of the great Irish harpist and songwriter Turlough O’Carolan. Whether true or not, he was a child who was stolen and raised by leprechauns (maybe ancestors of those in this story?) He now lives in Donegal, Ireland, where he communicates frequently with me, SOP for collaborators everywhere. We both favor Jameson whiskey, a mighty fine drink, but he often lapses into Gaelic (Leprechaunese?) when imbibing.

Look for A. B.’s young adult books The Secret Lab and The Secret of the Urns this year…and welcome A. B. to the team!

And for more sci-fi, check out my books More than Human: The Mensa Contagion and Rogue Planet, both on sale now at Smashwords.

In libris libertas!

 

2 Responses to “ABC Shorts: Caitlin O’Riley…”

  1. Scott Dyson Says:

    Great story! Congrats on the collaboration. It sounds as if you’ve both found the right match!

    Looking forward to the new version of SECRET LAB and whatever turns THE SECRET OF THE URNS might take. :-)

  2. Steven M. Moore Says:

    Hi Scott,
    Welcome back!
    A. B. and I already are closer than Preston and Child and Pournelle and Niven–Jameson whiskey is a good magic potion for that.
    We’ve already sent off the MS to The Secret Lab to Carrick Publishing–it will be out sometime in this first quarter of 2018. The Secret of the Urns will be out this third quarter if he gets off his butt!
    We both like short fiction. I’m expecting more contributions to the blog from him.
    Stay warm, stay healthy, and hang in there…2018 should be better, right?
    r/Steve

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