"It doesn’t look friendly" Joe opined.
"It doesn’t *act* friendly either," Gideon said "At least all our attempts to contact it, from radio to optics have failed."
"What are you calling them?"
"The Others," Gideon had the decency to look apologetic as he said this.
"So, who are you going to get to make contact?"
Gideon looked meaningfully at Joe.
You don’t have first contact training, do you? Joe teeped Seymour.
I mean we’re totally at sea here, right? Joe continued when he got no response.
It’s part of our basic training - I thought you knew... Seymour finally responded.
"There’s some mistake, I have no experience making any kind of contact!"
Don’t worry, it sounds like they’re looking for a glorified target. Seymour supplied.
"No mistake has been made, you are the man...err...woman...err...entity for the job," Gideon said soothingly.
Don’t you want them to reconsider?! Joe teeped frantically.
Well...it’s kind of the Holy Grail of every Companion-to be the one that makes contact! Seymour responded
Great...juuuust great! Joe grumbled.
Don’t worry about the whole contact thing; we’ll probably just get shot Seymour tried to console Joe.
...just great... Joe was inconsolable.
"And good luck!" Gideon said as Joe quivered on the stage beside him. Joe realized something was expected from him in the way of a reply. He walked over to the podium and took the proofed mike.
"I just wanted to let you know we’ll be thinking of you as we’re out there..." When the audience was satisfied that this was all, they erupted in applause.
"Go gettem Joe!" "Break a leg" "Good luck, Joe!" people echoed as he was hustled off the stage towards the selected transport.
"Gosh you guys really went all out..." They had refitted shuttle 13 as "Friendship One." Shuttle 13 was widely considered to be the worst assignment a shuttle pilot could get. Joe and Seymour had logged a great number of hours in it.
"Yes" the crewman, whose name was Jake, cut in. "I believe you’re already familiar with the craft."
Now...be nice Seymour chimed in.
"Let me run you through the extra communications gear we’ve added." Jake added
The quick run-down led Joe to believe the extra equipment had been added...just in case.
"Thank you for preparing this..." Joe began
Be nice...or else...
"...craft which must been very much under the gun work." Joe finished in as friendly a voice he could.
"Well actually..." but before Jake could incriminate himself, Gideon swooped in and said,
"Good luck, and goodbye!"
"Don’t you mean until we meet again?"
"I phrased it most carefully."
Gideon shoved Joe into the shuttle, slammed the door, and waved farewell.
Don’t you mean until we meet again? Seymour cut in.
I phrased it most carefully...
At this point I’ll dive into a little exposition regarding Seymour, Joe, and the blobs. Those already familiar with these stories can skip this section.
Seymour is a "blob," or a "Companion" as they like to call themselves, a telepathic symbiont that acts like a combination google, appointment manager, map, and pharmacy. Those who have a Companion are referred to as "the Guided," but the slang term is "blob lovers."
A Companion who does not have a person to guide generally goes insane after a decade or so, so guides are very interested in getting a host at the earliest opportunity. When a host bonds with a Companion it is generally for life: Companion hell is never being able to bond. Once bonded a Companion is very devoted to their host. The only thing that trumps this is the (minor) possibility of being a first contact with another species.
In emergencies, a Companion can take control of a host, the idea being that it can direct it’s host to safety, but a faction called the Conquerors used this ability to control their hosts completely. About 400 years ago, a colony ship bound for Earth was blasted with radiation that killed all the hosts. The remaining Companions went insane over the long voyage. This resulted in a Faction called the Conquers seizing control and trying to take over of their hosts. Eventually, the Moderates (the Companion term for a Companion who is not a Conqueror) reasserted themselves and the conflict with Earth ended. For this reason, people are understandably distrustful of the Companions. Companions, for their part, are more reluctant to bond because taking control of an unwilling host is major taboo in Companion society. Still, about 40% of the Earth’s population have them.
Physically, the Companions resemble a bag of mercury. They "work" by being placed on the back of their prospective host. In a couple of seconds there is contact between the Host and the Companion - enough for the Conquerors to take control. After a couple of months, the Companion "sinks" into the backs of their hosts so the Guided cannot be discerned from ordinary people, though they tend to be much healthier.
Joe is your typical shuttle pilot. He has a Guide, called Seymour, who interfaces with the shuttles controls and generally makes Joe’s life easier. He is slim, bearded and, for some reason, is unpopular among the Guided. He generally does the Moon to Mars moon run (Phobos). Otherwise, Joe is a typical host. He got Seymour because he had diabetes (he used to weigh 300 pounds), ‘fell in love" with his Guide, and that’s it.
Joe was rushed through the first contact program because the Guided needed someone right now to make contact with the Others, though he was much more likely to die.
Gideon is one of the Guided who works with "the Elder." The Elder is a giant (20 foot in diameter) Companion that everyone else refers to as "The Big Blob" or "BB" if they’re in a hurry. The Elder is a repository for Companion knowledge and also acts as the closest thing that the Companions have to a government.
The Elder is unique in that it has a helper rather than a host. It is fond of Trivial Pursuit. Its main opponent is Gideon, who claims that the Elder cheats.
We’re getting close to the Others, Seymour teeped.
Oh joy! What’s the plan?
We try to contact them with our equipment.
Wasn’t that already tried?
Yeah, well, maybe they were in cryo sleep.
But... OK so we try and hail them again.
Wait, there’s something coming through
Joe tried the communications equipment again, and an image immediately sprang up. It was a picture of "CATS" from the "Zero Wing" the computer game.
Main screen turn on!
"How are you gentlemen?" CATS quipped
"It’s you!" Joe jumped up.
"All your base are belong to us."
"What you say?"
Just then, the Leader of the Others moved the tired cliché out of the way
"Aww..." Joe said "...we were almost through it."
"While all your base are not belong to us, we have arrived."
His picture was upside down.
"Give me a minute - there’s some sort of problem with the communications equipment."
Joe fiddled with a knob and the picture flipped.
"There we go. Now, what were you saying about arriving?"
"You have no chance to survive, make your time."
The leader made one last comment before signing off "Ha, ha, ha."
We must move Zigs! Joe teeped.
For great justice! Seymour responded.
Or we could try hailing them again.
Joe fiddled with the communications equipment again. The leader’s visage came up again.
"It’s you!" the leader blurted
"Now stop that." Joe said gruffly.
"OK, well, our ships will destroy you."
"We have a lot of Zigs..erm.... ships! And they’re piloted by the Guided!"
"You guys have blobs?"
"You know about them?"
"We’ve run into them..."
"So, do you have them?"
"You might say we’re de-blobifed"
"Murderer!" Seymour blurted with Joe’s mouth.
I thought that was against the rules or something Joe teeped
I always thought of them as guidelines Seymour teeped back
"Not really they’re not human," the leader frowned.
"Haven’t you wondered why my race and yours are made up of humans?" Joe asked.
" Yes, it’s like we’re in a bad short story." Joe and the Leader looked out of the page and then Joe resumed. "So, what do you want?"
"Just your planet."
"Are you sure you don’t want Mars?"
"Mars is very nice..."
"Nah, we want the Earth."
"To get that you’ll have to go through me." Joe said Don’t you mean us? Seymour cut in. "I mean us." Joe corrected himself.
"Your ship is unarmed."
"I suppose you could talk me to death," the Leader frowned again. "Prepare to die." The Leader signed off.
That didn’t go well Seymour observed.
Yeah, well, that’s how it goes Joe teeped back.
You know, he wasn’t quite right about our equipment...
You mean we actually have a weapon?!
Well, kind of. Look in the forward compartment.
Joe rummaged in the forward compartment.
There’s just a laser pointer.
That’s it? A god damned laser pointer?!
Well, it qualifies as not being communications equipment Seymour teeped defensively.
"People will talk," the Leader appeared on the screen.
"So, you threw out the blobs"
"Yea we did." The Leader looked proud
"Despite what they offer?"
"They don’t offer anything!"
"What about being a positive voice?"
"OK, there’s that," the Leader looked uncomfortable.
"And never forgetting a name."
"Look, what’s your point?"
"You got rid of them because you didn’t feel worthy of them."
"No, it was because they told us to do stupid things, like be nice to people!" the Leader was now clearly upset.
"So, they stood in the way of conquest?"
"Something like that. "The Leader looked like he suddenly got an idea, "Why do you keep them around?"
"They save a huge amount on pharmaceuticals and they gave me the self-control to stick to my diet, but I think the real reason is because of the positive voice."
"They never give up or give in, no matter what have done."
"More claptrap from the feel-good bear." The Leader was clearly enjoying this.
"Look, rather than take my word for it why don’t you give one to your biggest loser. If it turns out that I’m full of it then you haven’t lost much."
What are you volunteering me for? Seymour asked.
You, nothing. Your clone will bond with his loser.
"How will we know it is him and not the puppeteer?" The Leader asked
"Simple: just have the puppeteer detach from him." Joe answered.
I’m not so sure I like this, Seymour hedged.
Relax, first contact and all that
Oh, good point
Ready to split? Joe asked.
Hang on a second, ready!
The Companion emerged from of Joe’s back and split in two. Joe picked up the clone.
"Ready to go!" Joe said to the Leader, who was talking to someone else.
"OK, one of my ships will dock with yours," the Leader said.
After about 10 min Joe heard a clang that heralded the docking. He got up and went to the airlock. He opened the door to see a pudgy man with his gun drawn.
"Hold on! Why is your gun out?" Joe recoiled.
"Just making sure no funny business is going on. " The man advanced into the cabin and peered around suspiciously. "Right, everything seems to be in order." The man holstered his gun and took the copy. "So, this is the blob?"
"They prefer the term ‘Companion.’"
"Whatever," the man’s eyes darted about as he spoke. He backed towards the exit.
"If you need any help..."
"I got this," the man said as he backed into a wall. He looked and then began backing towards the airlock.
Joe closed the airlock and waited. There was a clang as the other ship detached. Then silence.
"I can see what you don’t see in that guy." Joe addressed the Leader.
The Leader nodded and said, "This may take a few hours." Joe nodded and broke the connection.
"OK, so you gave a special blob to Dave," the first thing the Leader said after a couple of hours had gone by.
‘Why do you think that?" Joe replied.
"Because he was so positive about it."
"Sorry to say, but that was just a copy of mine."
"So, you got a special blob."
How dare he say that! Seymour cut in.
To the Leader "I hate to break it to you, but I’m basically Dave’s equivalent"
"What do you mean, I thought the puppeteers didn’t have any losers"
"Figure of speech. What I was trying to say was I didn’t get a special blob."
"You have no way of proving that."
"So, you could have a special blob," said the Leader stubbornly.
"If you thought that, why did you try?" The Leader frowned.
"I just wanted..." The Leader started and then trailed off.
"If you think Dave has a special companion then you can take copies of his." Joe observed.
"You just want another species," the Leader tried.
"But I’m willing to bet that there’s nothing remarkable about your species," Joe supplied.
"Other than having a large battle fleet --- something that would be very handy to a people intent on conquering others."
"If that’s true, why haven’t we done it?"
"If that’s true how come the puppeteers haven’t done that on Earth?"
After a little bit the Leader broke the connection.
After a day the comm alerted Joe that the Leader was back. Joe established a connection.
What do you think he wants Joe teeped.
The two most probable reasons are the he is calling us to taunt us before he kills us or that he’s going back Seymour teeped back.
"Even if we did want them back, there are things we’ve done that will make the blobs throw up their hands in disgust." The Leader spoke as soon as there was a connection.
So, what was this one; probability wise? Joe teeped
Pretty far down the list Seymour replied
"That’s the thing about them: they don’t care what you’ve done: they’re still there for you." Joe replied to the Leader.
"Look, you can try one and if it doesn’t work out at least you tried," Joe reasoned with the Leader.
The Leader shut down the channel again.
What do you think he’s doing? Joe asked Seymour.
Trying to work up the courage to try one. Seymour replied.
After a few hours the Leader was back again.
"What do you want now?" Joe asked.
"Is that any way to talk to a fellow guided?"
"You tried one?"
"And the world is a better place. You and Dave were right."
"I said *you* and Dave were right," the Leader frowned.
"Did you take it off?"
"And my officers told me that nudity was not one of my strong suits." But the Leader was smiling as he said it.
"But really, I said ‘put it back,’" The Leader said this before Joe’s next outburst.
"So, there’s not going to be a war?" Joe said hopefully.
"No! We are going to wipe you out. Just kidding, of course there’s not going to be a war!"
"What do you mean ‘or not?’"
"Now that I lived, they’ll probably make me do the Phobos run."
Enroot from the moon to Phobos Joe talked to Seymour.
So, how does it feel to be a mother of a new race?
Pretty good. Seymour teeped back.
You’d think they’d find a way of rewarding us... Joe groused
But noooooooo! They leave us on the moon run!
In shuttle 13 no less! Seymour was getting the hang of complaining.