Writing in Public: Story 4 (Novella) Chapter 15
Most aggravatingly, the ghost vanished as fast as he appeared and did not come back to talk to Hope. She’d only caught a glimpse of him, or it, or whatever. Not one of the touchy-feeling aliens—no tentacles.
Jian, who had been waiting outside by the “Good Food” store, listened grimly to what had happened. When Mel returned with two aliens and a human in tow, Jian went ahead to speak with her, her boots thumping on the wood sidewalk.
“Sometimes it’s nice having an officer along,” Brooks said with a grin.
A old-style truck rattled past, held together by duct tape and purple dust. Brooks watched it.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said. “Could the ghost be not showing up because of the solar flares?”
It was an interesting question. Hope didn’t have enough information to determine that either way. But at least the ghost seemed to be on her side, even if it had gotten violent last night.
Mel finished the discussion with one of the aliens, then spoke to Jian for several minutes. Neither woman looked happy. Finally Jian gestured for Hope and Brooks to cover over.
The aliens were dressed in the same undyed robes Hope had seen the other day—she guessed it was so plain because it would be weird tasting your clothes all day. One wore a heavy chain with a big red stone the size of Hope’s palm. The other was White Crystal.
Red Stone nodded a greeting at the three Kangjun travelers. Where the other aliens and been friendly and curious, he seemed almost too neutral. White Crystal was like a stone, not reacting to anything. Did these aliens have poker faces?
The translator was tanned to the point of badly cured leather. He’d shaved his head, though Hope could still see the faint outline of his receding hairline on his scalp. He was dressed in ratty pants covered with the purple dust and a long-sleeved white t-shirt. He had a chalkboard, which he passed to Red Stone.
Communication turned out to be a combination of hand gestures and writing down words in alien on the chalkboard.
The chalk scratched as Red Stone wrote on the chalkboard, the shovel had curled clumsily around the chalk. Hope caught a glimpse of the words as he turned the chalkboard to the translator. More hieroglyphs. She wondered how those translated into anything understandable. But then, English might look very strange to the aliens.
Jian moved in closer to Hope and Brooks and spoke in a low voice. “Don’t say anything you don’t want them to know. We don’t know how much they can understand.”
The translator provided the words in English. “We apologize if you were frightened of our ways.”
Hope sucked in her checks and crowded closer to Brooks. That wasn’t no apology. That was a politician’s attempt at sympathy, all the while without admitting guilt.
She checked Mel’s face. Mel had gone from cheerful to neutral. Jian wore her own unhappiness openly. The tension hovered in the air, as thick as the purple dust.
Hope met Red Stone’s three eyes. “You invited me here to help you. I am not a tasting feast for you. Surely you were told by your mama when you were little that it was bad manners to go off tasting just anyone.”
The translator’s eyes bulged.
“You go tell them that.” Hope folded her arms across her chest and tried to look intimidating. She needed a few more inches.
Mel’s eyes were shiny. She was trying not to laugh. Probably the first time anyone invoked parents and manners in a negotiation.
The translator erased the first message with his hand and wrote the new translation. It took a while.
Red Stone read the translation. He was so obviously unhappy that Mel moved back to join Hope.
“We respect your ways,” Mel said. “Please respect ours.”
It was the Red Stone’s turn at the chalkboard. The translator provided the text. “We only want to fix the problem your humans caused.”
Hope had struck a nerve. She wished she knew what nerve that was.
“What exactly do you want me to do?” she asked.
Red Stone’s slashed at the chalkboard. “Fix the problem.”
“What problem do you think there is? I don’t want to fix the wrong thing.”
Three eyes glared at her like she was being obstinate.
Mel eased in next to Hope. “That’s always what they told me. That the ghost was brought by the scientists and that we have to fix it.”
Red Stone thumped the chalkboard.
Hope looked from Jian to Brooks, and then to Mel. Deep breath. She was scared to death. She was afraid she was going to screw this up. But if she couldn’t get a straight answer, she knew she would do the wrong thing.
“Fix the problem is unhelpful,” she said. “Do you want me to talk to the ghost? Find out what he wants?”
The two aliens’ tentacles were almost violent in their conversation. This time, White Crystal took the chalkboard while Red Stone stepped back. If Red Stone had been a fire, he would have been pouring out black smoke.
Hope gulped and glanced at Mel.
“Stand your ground,” Mel murmured. “This is like playing poker.”
White Crystal seemed to be having trouble figuring out what to write. He tried out something, then wiped it out with the sleeve of his robe. He had another taste conversation with the other alien. Red Stone smacked White Crystal’s tentacles.
“They know the answer,” Jian said. “They don’t want to tell us.”
Mel spoke up. “My expert came from a very long ways to help you. Give her the courtesy of helping. Or I’ll send her back, and you will have nothing.”
Exasperated, Red Stone threw up his hands. There was no doubt what that meant: He couldn’t deal with Hope.
White Crystal made another go at the chalkboard. When Hope heard the translator read it aloud, she wished it was a translation mistake. The problem was she knew it wasn’t.
Kill the ghost.
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