“Wake up, Jon. They’re coming back in,” his com insisted loudly.
Jon muttered something that probably meant, “Yes, I’m getting up.” He sat up, rubbed his face with both hands and sealed his soft boots up. He’d never taken them off and still had a suit liner on. He staggered in the head and relieved himself, considered dressing differently for the now pressurized hold, and decided Caterpillars had no idea about the difference between a suit liner and a ballroom gown.
“Ship – Connect me to the galley deck,” he called loudly enough to reach from the head. “Would you have whoever is free bring me a double espresso to the lock?” Jon asked. “I need the caffeine badly. And a com headset, please.”
When he got to the lock the shuttle commander Fat Ortega was waiting with the requested drink in hand, the radio headset in his other hand, and the inner door of the lock already open.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bother you, sir,” Jon said, embarrassed.
“I happened to be in the galley and as free as anybody,” Ortega said. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Thank you, sir.” Ortega nodded and didn’t say anything about him just wearing a suit liner.
He cycled out quickly since there wasn’t that much of a pressure difference now. The Caterpillars were about where he’d set up his displays yesterday. Jon took the chair from where he’d left it walked up much closer than before. They shouldn’t have any reason to be shy after yesterday. They had a load on the floaters, but not his stuff. This was going to be interesting.
Jon unfolded the chair and sat down, did a com check to make sure he was in touch with the shuttle, moved the mic to the side a little extra, took the cover off the cup and had a sip.
One of the aliens was watching him rather than the others lifting items off the plates. It was hard to tell what interested him. You could tell which way their eyes were looking, but not as exactly as another human. Maybe that would come with experience. He had one of the devices they suspected was a camera in one tentacle and another instrument of some sort in another. He moved his head around a little, not just his eyes, watching Jon unfold the chair. Jon wondered if they had the concept of furniture at all? Perhaps they could stand for hours on end with so many legs. Jon had the sudden insight that with that many legs you could stand on a few and rest others.
Ah – they did have one of his pieces. The bust on a pedestal. They even figured out how to switch the turntable on and off, because the fellow setting it up did that as Jon watched. They’d kept the camera and monitors however.
The Caterpillar who seemed assigned to watch him came up close, much bolder than yesterday. He seemed to be much twitchier about the tentacles, especially the small ones down lower. Jon assumed he had a mouth in there somewhere. He brought the other, unidentified, instrument up and tipped it right over Jon’s coffee. Well, that was interesting. He appeared to be scanning it.
The tentacle wrapped around the instrument unwound a couple loops, and before Jon could react, the Caterpillar plunged it in his espresso and swished it around a bit.
Commander Ortega quickly cut him off and spoke in his ear through the com set.
“Before you say too much: Remember they are eventually going to understand what we say, and very likely go back and review every word we ever uttered,” Ortega warned him.
“Uh, yeah… Holy Mackerel,” Jon finished, wisely.
The alien transferred the instrument to a smaller tentacle and withdrew it into the mass of small tendrils before bringing the big one back to the cup. Just as Jon had moved slow to avoid scaring the alien yesterday the Caterpillar reached slowly with his larger tentacle and curled it around the cup. Jon had to smile at how delicately he did so. The Caterpillar wasn’t assertive. He grasped the cup and didn’t tug at all, but the request was plain. Jon let go of it slowly and withdrew his hand, folding his hands in his lap.
“Are you sure you don’t want one last sip?” Ortega asked in his ear.
“You have an evil sense of humor… sir,” Jon replied.
The alien carried the cup carefully, almost reverently, to the others and after much hooting and new noises they each carefully dipped a tentacle in turn, and one might assume tasted. One of them exited the hold and seemed to be in a bigger hurry than when they came in.
The others had a mechanism of some sort positioned in front of the pedestal with the bust on it. It looked more like a studio microphone than a camera however. They also had a low boomerang shape they brought over and laid about a half meter in front of him.
Jon’s handler had returned and was standing to the side. He waved his tentacles a bit and gave a couple hoots like a ferry boat getting ready to undock. Jon had no idea what he wanted.
The alien stood still looking at him. Jon wondered if he was disgusted at how stupid he was or upset with himself for not being clearer. After a bit he tugged the smaller tentacles in close and held the two big ones out straight in front of him. When that got no reaction he swept them both up vertically like a football referee calling a good goal.
“I’m obviously supposed to know what that means,” Jon said, out loud. “But I’m clueless.”
The alien held the tentacles out straight again and slowly made both ends turn up at right angles. Even not having tentacles it looked uncomfortable. Then he crossed and uncrossed them a couple times.
“Oh, my arms?” Jon asked, holding his arms out and turning his hands up palms out like the alien. That produced a melody of hoots and one of the other Caterpillars came rushing over with one of the floating plates. Really, just super high tech hand carts, Jon thought.
The assistant put the boomerang shape on the cart, made it float a bit higher, and then pushed it back in front of Jon, even a little bit closer. The alien did the uncomfortable tentacle waving thing again.
“Oh, it wasn’t close enough,” Jon figured out. He reached out straight armed and crossed his wrists with his palms out just like the alien and uncrossed them, wondering if it was going to play music or what. The air in front of him filled with an image of the bust from hand to hand. Jon thought the displays their ships used were high definition. He was wrong. This just looked real. Real as a hole in the air with a view of the bust he’d brought along. He pulled his hands back and the image grew closer. As an experiment he closed one eye and then the other. It was in 3D.
“Wow what?” Ortega asked in his ear. “Do you need pom-poms? You look like a drunk cheerleader waving your arms around.”
“We just got richer than we ever imagined. And some of the Fargoers have pretty vivid imaginations. A few of them have been writing million dollar IOUs for their poker games,” Jon said.
“What are you talking about? I see they brought out some things. Are you trying to trade for them?”
“Yes sir. I certainly shall. Anything they want. Have you ever seen really old grainy movies? The sort that were on actual film before they were digitalized? Grayscale even instead of color?”
“Yes I have. They called them black and white during that era. Don’t ask me why,” Ortega said.
“Well the Caterpillars just showed me a 3D video system that makes our displays look about as sad as those old movies,” Jon told him. He tried withdrawing his hands, but the image followed. He tried taking one back and not the other and it rotated. This was a great display but he couldn’t hold his hands out for hours. The alien made the lifting gesture again.
“Oh… ” Jon unbent his wrists and swept both arms straight up away from the display. It stayed put.
“Damn, this looks so good,” Jon said. Ortega didn’t even reprove him.
“Wake up, Jon. They’re coming back in,” his com insisted loudly.