Who’s Out There?

The immediate predecessor to “Who’s Out There?” – Callisto Confidential

A previous related Callisto story – And To All A Good Night

Carly examined the two martini glasses closely. They were radiant crystal, beautifully cut, and perfectly matched. Under magnification she found no identifying trademarks.

There were also no labels on the gin or vermouth bottles and no markings even on their concave bases. The stoppers expanded when inserted into a bottle’s neck and contracted when torqued for removal. Pulling all the bottles from the packing case, she found at the bottom a small jar of cocktail olives and a white paper envelope.

Carly slid her finger under the envelope’s paper seal. “Curiouser and curiouser,” she said, as she read the invitation.

Dear Miss Carly Shellion,

You are cordially invited to dine with Mister Roger Barca Dakkar at his estate tomorrow evening at seven o’clock p.m. GMT. A cabriolet is being sent to collect you at quarter to seven. It will wait five minutes.

Your servant,

‘D’

P.S. When you leave the dressing room you will want to hold the brass rails with both hands.

The letter was written on formal stationery in sepia fountain pen ink. Hmm, Carly thought, the estate of Roger Barca Dakkar—Esquire, no doubt. She laughed and shouted into the air, “Have I gone mad? I’m afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usually are …” Then she whispered, “At least according to Lewis Carroll.”

Carly scooped her stainless Global Space Agency tumbler into the ice maker, added three parts gin to one thimble vermouth, stirred, strained the contents into one of the martini glasses, and added two olives. She pulled her faux leather and aluminum frame chair close under the light, and reread the invitation with the contemplative advantage of gin.

From the angular stylized hand and composition, she might guess the author came from the 19th century. She glanced at the book-marked page of Pride and Prejudice still displayed beside her bunk. Mad indeed.

Carly filed her usual morning report, according to routine. “Hargate, this is Carly Shellion checking in for Callisto Command Center, GSA Jupiter mission. Nothing new to report. Everything is running at optimal.

“The moon rover you sent, which I’m sure you guessed I’m calling Heathcliff, worked perfectly—both as a sensor platform and as a canine companion. Thanks again for that. He’s charging now. I’ll be taking him out on my rounds later.

“That’s all for now. Carly Shellion is signing off.”

She was already having second thoughts about not mentioning her “alien” contact and invitation. What was a cabriolet? A single-axel one-horse carriage, as any romance reader knows … but what was it on Callisto? Why was there a dressing room? And why should she mind the brass railings?

She glanced off the page at Heathcliff sitting expectantly at her feet. Immediately, the dog-simulant moon rover burst into a spinning dance of wags, jumps, and lunges toward the airlock. “Okay boy, time for our walk.”

640-jupiter-from-callisto

Carly ran through the pre-walk safety procedure then stepped out onto Callisto’s surface. The temperature was steady at -142 °C. Non-twinkling rhinestone stars studded the black velvet sky, and Jupiter’s disk shone like an orange tennis-ball above the gray-white ridgeline. Far off on the opposite horizon, the Earth-star and diminished sun felt less significant.

Carly completed her rounds without incident. Although it was almost six hours until dinner, she chose to return to the command center rather than extend her walk. The questions that had haunted her last night provoked disturbing answers.

What did she know? There was another presence on Callisto, and it was probably not from GSA. Could the government have another space program? If so, it was better funded—a well-stocked bar, provisions for unscheduled guests, and who knew what else?

The invitation was a romantic anachronism, handwritten in ancient ink on real stationery. She had no idea these things were still made in this century.

Unable to come up with any logical scenarios, Carly decided she needed to prepare for the illogical extremes.

Aliens were monitoring Earth, probably from a distance of two to three hundred light years. That would explain why they were out of date. Before making contact, they’d studied our language and culture. To avoid misunderstandings, they’d try to mirror Earth social amenities, thus the gifts of glassware and beverages. For first contact, they’d select an isolated person, probably a scientist. They’d watched while we built the Callisto Command Center and built one nearby. And … and they needed handrails, why? It is unlikely that their planet has Callisto’s gravity, one eighth that of Earth. So they installed artificial gravity on this station and are warning me to be prepared. I hope it’s not much greater than Earth’s.

Shaky logic, very shaky, Carly thought, bouncing her fingers together repeatedly on opposite hands. But it connected all the data points.hansom

Considering the opposite extreme, I’m about to meet a nineteenth century gentleman wearing a frock coat and a top hat whose horse and buggy transports him across time and space … or maybe I’ll meet Alice’s Mad Hatter himself.

Heathcliff sprang to his feet and ran barking to the airlock. It was quarter to seven. Her carriage had arrived.

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12 thoughts on “Who’s Out There?”

  1. I really enjoy your attention to detail in the discriptions. Very hypnotic and alive.

    “Aliens were monitoring Earth, probably from a distance of two to three hundred light years.” When an author from the CIA writes this, it adds a layer of potential meaning that I’ve never come across before in the sf I’ve read.

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    1. Thank you. I’m new to writing fiction but did extensive technical writing throughout my career… often translating science and engineering for policy makers — whose main talent is popularity contests. I think it is important for SF writers (more than in any other genre) to transport readers to something totally new and unfamiliar, yet make it feel as familiar and comfortable as talking with neighbors across the back fence.

      You might agree with me that most current SF writers skip that WONDER phase by making characters very like humans, worlds very like Earth, and space travel very like taking an ocean cruise, i.e., about as alien as a trip to Bangkok.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s hard to imagine that you’re new to writing fiction. That’s amazing. Technical writing for DC people must somehow be like writing fiction. I guess one similarity would have to be, as a writer, constantly thinking about how the story and words affect the reader.

        I’m not sure I know the trends in current science fiction, but certainly my own sf stories lack something of the element of wonder. I need to develop my ability to describe things clearly and in detail, and then be willing to put that sort of thing in my stories. I have a fear that if I describe things in careful detail, readers will become bored. I bet the truth is just the opposite.

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      2. “Technical writing for DC people must somehow be like writing fiction.” There is more truth to that than most people would be comfortable knowing. When something new turns up and it’s purpose/direction isn’t immediately clear, I have been asked, “What might this mean?” Which is an invitation to tell a story. Balancing the right amount of detail in SF is tricky—for the concerns you mention. My writing group in Charlottesville isn’t into SF, but they bear with me and give me good feedback on detail, characters, and pacing.

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      3. “What might this mean?” I can imagine situations where that question may have lead to an sf story. Hahaha.

        You’re fortunate to have a non-sf writer’s group that’s supportive of your work and gives you their broader perspective on things like pacing and dialogue especially. It seems that sometimes sf writers feel that an “information dump” in dialogue is to be expected in sf, for instance. Your dialogue flows naturally.

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      4. Thank you again. All your points are well taken … dialog comes easier to people who listen to how others speak. I spend a lot of time getting it to sound natural. The ‘info dump’ you mention in most SF usually comes early in the story. In my mind that is a terrible crutch. If you follow my Callisto series from the Christmas story, “And to All a Good Night”, you’ll get a picture of what NASA actually plans for Callisto, i.e. using it as a repair base and gas station for deeper explorations on Jupiter and beyond. I suspect most readers won’t appreciate/care about that, but I try to be accurate for those who do.

        My writing group considers itself a ‘literary’ writing group; therefore all forms of genre fiction are considered inferior writing. Oddly they also say they look forward to my characters, scenes, technology expositions, and plot twists. So they can get into it. SHRUG!

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      5. The academics are thoroughly convinced that they’re the superior performers in all human pursuits, medicine included. I’ll give them credit for great school-type intelligence and the long attention spans needed to tackle endless detail in any field, but as valuable as those things are, I’m not handing academics any accolades for common sense or the wisdom of humility. They provide objective people one of the clearest examples of the seductiveness and limitations of groupthink – in my humble and yet infallible opinion. hahaha

        I’ll go to your site right now and read your story from “And to All a Good Night.” I hope that’s the beginning. It’s often a trick to find the beginning of a story on a wordpress blog.

        I appreciate the accuracy you’re bringing to your readers, whether you mean it in terms of the CIA’s literal knowledge of things or the fictional reality you’ve created. Hopefully it’s the former, but if not, don’t tell us. It’s more fun to hope that there’s a science fiction writer from the CIA who’s giving informed info about what’s actually going on in space. It adds an extra dimension to your work.

        If your literary writing group thinks that your writing is in any way inferior, they need their heads examined. I like Shawn Coyne’s well-informed perspective: “literary fiction” is truly one of the genres.

        In medicine, the traditional lack of nutrition education for MD’s is analogous to the traditional lack of plotting education given to Ivory Tower “literary” writers.

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      6. We share a good deal of life philosophy. I start with academics but stay with them only until I perceive that they are straying from fact or logical analysis. My term for ‘group think’ is ‘herd think’ … the dread fear of wandering from the safety and approval of the herd. Herd direction may be based on actual fact, such as the location of a waterhole, or non-fact, someone calling wolf (avoidance behavior) or merely wishing something were so because it rhymes nicely with their politics.

        I learned the correct use and limitations of data and the process of analysis in my professional career as a technical analyst. CIA invests in cutting edge technology, and I tested some of that, but it is all Earth-focused. In my stories I extrapolate and investigate alternate or follow-on applications.

        Yes, the Callisto series started with “And to all a Good Night”. My sister asked me to write a Christmas story. I liked the setting on Callisto so I wrote a follow-on series.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Good to hear you are enjoining Carly’s adventure. My characters get involved in writing these stories and sometimes pad their roles. I plan to finish this sequence with Carly Shellion before the end of March … then leave the reader with a different set of questions. I also plan to have her revisit Callisto and “Mr. Dakkar” in future episodes.

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