Читать онлайн "Cast Under an Alien Sun"

Автор Olan Thorensen

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... g, his mind racing, groping for solid ground.

“Please answer. What is your name?”

“Joe,” he mumbled. “Joe.”

“Your name is Joe? Is that your entire name?”

“Joseph. Joseph Colsco. Joseph William Colsco.”

“You have given three different names. Are they all equally correct, or is one more correct?”

“My full name is Joseph William Colsco, but people call me Joe.” The rasp in his voice was fading.

“Thank you, Joe.”

“Who are you?” he demanded, his tone hardening.

“You may think of me as your doctor.”

“Think” of you as—? What the hell is going on?

His mouth went dry again. He returned to the tube for more water and a moment to think.

“All right. You’re a doctor, and I was in an accident. Why can’t I move?”

“To keep you calm until we can talk,” said the voice with its odd flatness. It had an accent, though he couldn’t place it. That was unusual, because people from all over the world attended Berkeley, and he could easily identify most accents. This voice strangely lacked intonations.

“I will allow a little movement so you can be reassured. Test your fingers and toes.”

Joe clenched his hands, then splayed his fingers. He wiggled his toes. He wasn’t paralyzed.

He tried to sound calmer. “Yes, I can move a little. Why can’t I get up?”

“In time. Please answer more questions. This is to check your memory. Where do you live?”

“Berkeley, California.”

“What is our occupation?”

“I’m a chemistry graduate student at the University of California.”

“Where were you born?”

“La Mesa, near San Diego.”

“What is the name of the San Diego football team?”

“Huh? Who cares?”

“The name please.”

“The Chargers.”

“Now I will ask questions to test your mental responses. What is two plus five?”

“Seven.”

“The square root of twenty-five?”

“Five.”

“The cube root of 4913?”

“Gimme a break!”

“Please recite back the following numbers, three, five, eight, two.”

Joe complied.

“Three, five, two, two, seven, six, eight.”

He repeated the string of numbers again—barely.

“Five, eight, one, eight, three, six, two, seven, four, five, seven, five, nine.”

“Who the fuck can remember that many?!”

The questions continued, alternating from the trivial to the ridiculous. Joe was about to call an exhausted and angry halt when the questions stopped.

“Thank you, Joe. Your mental functioning seems to be satisfactory.”

Joe was too tired to respond.

“You will rest now, and we will talk more later.”

“Wait! What about some answ—”

Joe descended into a black void.

* * *

Then . . . awake again. This time suddenly, still looking at the same white ceiling. Joe opened his mouth to call out and realized he could move his arms. He drew them up in front of his face to look at his hands, rotated the wrists to view both sides, and flexed his fingers. While everything worked, the pallid flesh and his thin arms startled him.

“You may sit up,” the voice droned. “Be careful. You may feel dizzy.”

When Joe tried to sit up, it was as if his abdominal muscles had forgotten how to contract. He grunted and pushed against the surface with his right arm, struggling into a sitting position. He was on a platform two feet off a floor. The voice was right. He was so dizzy for a second, he thought he might faint. He sat, head hanging, hands gripping the edge of the platform, eyes closed until his head cleared.

The ceiling, walls, floor, and platform were all the same white. He was inside a ten-foot white cube, empty except for the low platform on which he sat.

He looked down. He was naked. His genitals were there but shriveled. His legs were pale, thin, and unmarred.

The accident! My leg!

He remembered the bone sticking out. Ribbons of blood. Now, there wasn’t a mark. What kind of hospital was this?

“Joe, can you catch this ball?”

“Ball? What ball?” Something thudded off his forehead. A blue ball about two inches in diameter bounced across the floor, hit a wall, and continued to ricochet around the room. It wasn’t the blueness that caught his attention, but the slowness with which the ball bounced and the height of the bounces. It was like he was watching a slow-motion film. That possibility was eliminated when the ball came within reach, and Joe reached out and grabbed it with his left hand. Another ball appeared—red this time. He caught it in his right hand.

“Good reflexes. Thank you, Joe.”

He stared at the two balls in his hands, then his fingers curled into fists. He opened his hands and gaped. The balls were gone!

A chill washed over him, and his breathing turned quick and shallow. A knot formed in his stomach.

“There is no reason to be frightened, Joe. You are fine. You were injured, but everything seems to be sufficiently repaired.”

Repaired? Like a toaster? And sufficiently? Sufficiently for what?

He drew several deep breaths, trying to slow his racing heart. “Please answer my questions. Who are you, and where am I?”

“Joe, I am a simulation of a human being, designed to communicate with you.”

“Yeah,” Joe snorted, “and I’m Jim Thorpe, the greatest athlete ever.”

There was silence for a few seconds, then, “I’m sorry. You told me earlier your name was Joseph William Colsco. Did I misunderstand?”

“All right! Enough of this shit! Who the fuck are you, and where am I?”

“Joe, do you see the bar next to you?”

“What?”

“The bar, Joe,” insisted the voice.

“There’s no bar—” Joe glanced to his side and scowled at a two-inch-thick bar about eight inches above the end of the platform and curving to connect to the two corners. It hadn’t been there a moment ago. “Where . . . ?”

“Please hold onto the bar.”

Joe placed his right hand lightly on the bar.

“Do not be alarmed. Please hold onto the bar to avoid injury.”

“Injury from wha—” His feet left the floor. Joe gasped and clutched the bar with both hands as he floated, attached only by his death grip on the bar, his mind blank of any thought except holding on.

The sensation of weight slowly returned, and he settled back onto the platform, keeping a firm grip on the bar with his right hand and his left hand gripping the edge of the platform. His mind was frozen, waiting for an explanation.

Finally, he croaked, “What happened?”

“The gravity in your room was adjusted to zero to prove you are no longer on your planet. You are in a vessel at a Lagrange point.”

“Lagrange point?” The part of his mind still reasoning drew from a classroom memory. One of the points in space relative to the Earth where an object stays in a stable position with respect to the Earth while they both orbit the Sun. He remembered the balance between gravity and orbital motion caused the stability. He thought there were several such points, but all he could remember were the ones where the Sun, the Earth, and the Lagrange point were in a line, Sun-point-Earth, Earth-Sun-point, point-Earth-Sun, and point-Sun-Earth.

“That’s not possible,” Joe whispered, another chill raising the hairs on his back and arms. “How can I be at a Lagrange point?”

“How do you think it would be possible?”

Joe froze. To answer would make the impossible possible.

“Joe, how might you be at a Lagrange point?”

Joe’s brain seized, trapped in a vortex. The voice repeated the question at thirty-second intervals until Joe swallowed and choked out, “A spacecraft?”

“Very good, Joe. Yes, you are on a spacecraft.”

“How did I get into space and whose ship is this? Ours? Russians’? Chinese?”

“What do you think, Joe? Which of them could have adjusted the gravity in this room?”

Joe’s mind raced, rummaging frantically for plausible answers. He was on Earth, and they faked the floating? No. No way to do that on Earth. And what about the slowness of the bouncing balls? Some secret NASA, military, Russian, whomever or whatever? Nothing fit. But it had to be one of these, didn’t it?

Joe’s grip on the bar tightened even more, as he eliminated all possibilities except one. The blood drained from his face.

“Can you think of an answer, Joe?”

“No,” he said in a small voice.

“Then what is left?”

He was silent for a full minute. Joe was cold and sweating at the same time, his throat constricted, his heart pounding. “A spaceship not made on Earth?”

“That is correct, Joe. This craft did not originate on your planet.”

I’m insane, dreaming, or hallucinating.

Joe scrambled for an explanation he could understand. Acceptance came only after more demonstrations of gravity manipulation, and when one wall turned transparent and he could see the Earth in full view. At first, it was a small orb of blues, browns, and greens. Then it grew closer—magnified, he assumed—until it filled the wall. He stared for some time, long enough to notice the view had the Earth’s surface in total sunlight. The only way the surface could be in complete sunlight was if the vessel was positioned between the Sun and the Earth.

This must be the L1 Lagrange Point, his mind dredged up. So the Sun must be behind us to get this view. The Sun-point-Earth Lagrange arrangement. Only when the wall changed back to white, and his heart rate returned closer to normal did his mind accept as possible the option that couldn’t be true. The voice was silent, wait