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Life, the Universe, and other Rubbish

Author's Note:

(Before you read this, please keep in mind that this is an unfinished work, and I really want to hear what you think of it so far. Do you want to see the rest? Is it a good start? Please let me know! :) )

Watching the stars was sort of a pass-time for Jethro, he would spend most evenings after he’d eaten his microwave dinner, sitting on his apartment’s balcony looking up at the few stars he could actually see. Being twenty something with a job at a local fast food joint, which he hated, no girlfriend to speak of, and only a few published poems to his name, you might say that Jethro was a lonely and melancholy guy. And you would probably be right. On this particular night, Jethro sat, in his deck chair, slouched like a banana peel on a wet Wednesday afternoon, staring up at the cloudless night sky looking for his favourite star. He only had one favourite, because you could probably only see ten from his apartment balcony; (mostly due to the bright city lights that could, if combined, fry seventeen Sunday breakfasts in a matter of seconds). When he finally found it, he kept his eyes glued and just watched as it so very slowly made its way across the sky. He would watch, and wonder what it was like at the other end, and if maybe, just maybe, there was someone there, watching his star just as he was watching theirs. And while he was at it, would often ask the question, What is the Universe all about anyway? Of course he didn’t just think about this, he’d also think about his life gone by, that is, up until his life now, and of all his shortcomings and successes, but mostly his shortcomings. (Which to be perfectly honest probably isn’t conducive to good mental health).

Unfortunately for Jethro, a cold breeze picked up, and since he was in a t-shirt and underwear, he begrudgingly broke his eye lock with his star, peeled himself up from the deck chair and wondered back inside his murky apartment to see what kind of crap was on the TV that night.

On the other side of town, amongst the many buildings of one of three of the cities universities was the colleges’ newest astrophysics professor, Gus Fargo. Understandably you might think that Gus Fargo is quite an odd name for science professor or just an odd name in general. This would be because it is an odd name, and all of the children at Gus’ school made sure he knew it. Since then, however, Gus’ had moved forward in his life, becoming one of the youngest Astrophysics professors to teach and conduct research at the University. Deep down, even though he didn’t know it, one of the several reasons he chose this line of work was because he wanted to be important and even deeper than that, he wanted to be taken seriously. He could have become a politician, but his so called ‘obscure’ love for Mathematics and desire to learn ‘the truth of it all’, drove him forward into the field of Astrophysics and Cosmology.

However as Gus had just discovered at a ‘Congratulatory’ dinner, it didn't matter how credible his work was, or how successful his academic career had been so far, to them, he was still too young. He was essentially, a twenty-six-year-old professor with an obscure name. So as Professor Gus trudged away from what was quite possibly the second worst dinner of his life, he looked up at what was what he called a ‘pathetic excuse for a sky’ looking for that star that his roommate always used to go on about. Capella. He’d discovered the name for the star a long time ago, and that it wasn’t just one star, it was actually two pairs of two stars in the same system, two yellow giants orbiting each other with two red dwarfs orbiting them and each other. He didn’t tell him of course, as he didn’t want to destroy any sentimental value the stars had for him. He stopped and looked at it for a brief moment, thinking he should call his old roommate, then cold breeze caught him off guard, and forced him to quickly make his way home.

Jethro at the time was ‘busy’ watching the television, or more specifically, the news, or as he would aptly describe it, ‘bad things that have happened today, with a side pointless actives’. It was around the time of the weekly update of how rubbish the economy was doing that Jethro heard the rattle of his phone on the coffee table/footstool. He sighed and strenuously reached out with his skinny arms to grab the thing before it rattled its way off the table altogether. He muted the clueless looking reporter on the television, and clumsily answered the inconveniently flat device.

“Hello?”

“Ah, hey J-ro, uh it's me? Gus?”

It had been awhile since Gus had made contact with Jethro, let alone hearing anyone call him ‘J-ro’, so Jethro was pleasantly surprised and perked up a little.

“Heeeyyy. Gus! How are things? Still busy with your… uh… space—olgo-“

“-Astrophysics, and… well, yeh I just got work as a Professor at the college.” Gus said, feeling embarrassed that he had even mentioned it.

“Wow. Professor! Not bad. Already? That’s awesome bro!”

“Yeh… it is.. anyway I was wondering if you wanted to catch up sometime, it's been over two years.”

“Definitely.” Jethro was remembering their time together on and off campus, back when he was doing his degree in English and Literature Studies, he just now realised that he really wanted to see Gus again.

“Well, how about our old hangout, you know, near the old coffee shop on the way to the observatory in the mountains?”

“Haha, sounds good, you want to go up to the observatory? Say hi to Dr Andrew?”

Gus paused to think for a moment, “Yeh, something like that. How’s tomorrow at four for you?”

“Yeh, I’m free, see you then yeh?”

“Yep, just like it was five years ago.”

———————————————————————————————————————————

On the following day, the two friends each made their way to the ‘old coffee shop’ located exactly 7.35 miles out of town. Jethro reluctantly traveled by the public bus system, requiring three transfers to reach his destination, while Gus after finishing his first day as a College Professor, took his recently purchased car toward the woods located in the foothills of the mountains. The old coffee shop itself was actually called ‘Renford’s Coffee’. It wasn’t called this because Renford was the owner’s name but because Renford was actually the name of the observatory that was approximately ten miles down the road the shop sat next to. The old coffee shop was actually strategically placed so that it was accessible from both the observatory road and the main road; with by far its best feature, the often stunning view of the city, which was framed by two tree coated hills that stretched around the valley bellow. (Sort of like an enormous horseshoe, only more green and nicer to look at). This made the atmosphere of the place quite pleasant, especially during the later hours of the afternoon when the sun was dropping between the hills and over the city. The lighting was angled quite nicely, pouring between the branches of the trees and reflecting off of the mountains behind with gorgeous colour. These factors were often the inspiration for many of Jethro’s poems, and Gus also, in his own way appreciated them as well, so it comes as no surprise that, being the romantics that they are, it was this location that they decided to meet.

Gus was already sitting outside admiring the view, when Jethro, having just gotten off the bus walked round the corner to where he was sitting. The two shared a smile, Gus stood up, and they embraced with a solid pat on their backs, chuckling. They moved apart and sat at the table, each noticed that the other had changed over the last two years, Gus with his spiked black hair and that goatee he’d always talked about growing, and Jethro with his long grown-out brown hair and short almost-unshaven-looking beard. Jethro talked first. It had been quite some time since the two had seen each other, and neither knew exactly where to start,

“So ‘Professor Gus Fargo’, how’s life treating you these days?”

Gus couldn’t help but smile and shake his head, “Im still getting used to being called that, but I suppose life is treating me alright, you?”

Jethro looked down briefly, “Yeah not too bad at the moment, I’ve been published twice, so thats pretty good I guess. But, you know, kind of just making my way at the moment.”

Gus nodded, “Well, how about we get ourselves some coffee, head up to the observatory and check on Dr Andrew, and then we could head down to the bar and get a beer.”

Jethro thought for all of half a second, “Sounds good. Just like before.”

About nine miles up the road and the mountain side, Gus and Jethro came to the observatory entry gate, unfortunately since it was closed they were forced to walk the remaining mile on the dirt trail that lead up to the observatory through part of the forest. The walk was mostly uphill but occasionally flattened out briefly every few hundred yards, which since neither were athletes or incredibly fit made good places to stop and rest. Soon they reached Rendord Observatory and immediately recognised the large white dome sitting atop the main brown squarish building against the more thinly tree’d mountainside. It was then that Gus finished talking about how inconveniently awkward and almost disastrous his first day as a Professor of Astrophysics had been, and pushed enthusiastically on the ringer for the front entryway. It had been even longer since they had seen Dr Andrew than they had seen each other, so they discussed the idea that maybe he didn’t even work there anymore while they waited. The man who opened the door disappointingly wasn’t Dr Andrew but was also a familiar face. Gus knew instantly, “Phillip! been a while since I saw you around campus. I'm here with Jethro, can we come in?”

Phillip was Astronomy student at the same college they had and had been interning at the Observatory since then. (And apparently so had his glasses).

“Oh hey, Gus! Wow, J-ro, been a while since I’ve seen the two of you together. Yeh, come on in guys.”

The Observatory itself was rather old, constructed before the city some seventeen miles away had grown to its rudely obtrusive size and brightness. It was more of a tourist attraction now, but fortunately on good nights, enthusiasts could use the telescope to look into the sky, which became something of a tradition for Jethro and Gus.

Once inside Jethro spoke up, “So how’s business going? I heard you guys were having a bit of trouble last year?”

“Yeh we were, but this year’s been a little better, so we’re staying afloat for now. It's good to see you guys up here again by the way. Thinking about staying around to see what we can see later on? Should be a good night tonight.”

After quickly looking at some of the old pictures on the hall wall Gus respond, “No, sorry Phil, not tonight. We were actually hoping to see if Dr Andrew was around.”

Phillip suddenly stopped walking and quickly turned to face the pair, visibly both surprised and saddened. “You guys don’t know? Wow, I mean…” He paused looking for some sort of confirmation on the two now equally confused faces. “Dr Andrew… died, about a year ago, didn’t you hear?”

“N. no…” Jethro said almost inaudibly. It was all either of them could muster.

Doctor Andrew had been a bit of a legend amongst some of the students that often went to the observatory. He ran the place and seemed never to leave its walls. He was often called one of the few old-fashioned Astronomers remaining in the scientific community since he would always be using the old telescope to view the stars almost every night for about thirty years, even though on most nights you could barely see the sky. Some people said he was a little crazy, but Gus and Jethro knew he was just an extremely generous and passionate man and had inspired Gus and Jethro to try and understand the universe. So understandably the news that a tree had fallen on his car with him in it during a stormy night took a toll on the two young men, and also understandably, ruined their night.

After having each downed one beer, Jethro and Gus decided that it was best to leave Phil to it, and make their way back to the car before it got too dark. After exchanging goodbyes, and feeling quite the opposite about their lives than when they had first arrived, they silently began their trek down through the forest. Roughly one hundred and seventy-two feet down, Jethro broke their mutual dumbness with a question, one that had been echoed throughout billions of life times, “What do you think happens when you die?”

“Oh, uh… nothing. I suppose…”

“So, like when you get knocked out or sleep? How do you figure that?”

“Well… were you aware of anything before you were alive? No. So how is death any different.”

“Makes sense I guess… ‘from dust to dust’.” Jethro paused for a few seconds, “Seems a bit silly that everything dies.”

This statement made Gus curious, “How so?”

“Well if everything keeps dying, what was the point of it ever existing in the first place? And not just living things, you used to keep talking about how stars die, and that eventually the universe will die. Why are things… well, things? If they will stop being things, they’re not things anymore, just as they were to begin with.”

Gus had missed these sorts of discussions, they had had them before, he would always present the rational scientific perspective and Jethro would present a more philosophical and romantic one. But with the news of the passing of Dr Andrew, a significant person in their lives, it had become a lot more personal.

“I don’t know… Well if things did not die, we would not be here… as to why that's significant… I don’t think it is.”

“Well it’s significant to me, that must count for something.”

Gus was about to respond, when at that moment, a loud screeching noise tore through their heads. It did not come from their surroundings but from within their brains, reverberating loudly. (Not unlike the painful and somewhat irritating sensation one would experience from scratching a fork on a plate. Only, in this case, the fork is the sharpest object imaginable, and the plate is your brain). Fortunately, this extremely painful sensation only lasted for a few seconds and ended before they both passed out. However, mere milliseconds after the ‘sound’ had dissipated a grey mass rolled down the slope to their left, out of the tree line, and right in front of the two staggering men. Still recovering from their quick and quite awful experience, the two friends immediately jumped back in shock. They were quite surprised by the screeching and surprised again by the grey mass, but were even more surprised and a little horrified to see the grey mass move and struggle to stand. The only decipherable words that were uttered by the two since these events had passed were: “Wha-What the HELL!?” But now they watched in silence as the grey creature got up on its feet and stood up to a height of three and a half foot. It had skinny arms and hands, with three fingers and one thumb on each, its skin appeared to be flawlessly smooth, with no evidence of toes on its two feet. But by far its most prominent feature was its relatively enormous head, with no sign of a mouth or nose with the majority of its lower skull taken up by its two black, unblinking egg shaped eyes. It was the image of your perfect stereotypical ‘Grey Alien’.

Gus and Jethro stared at the creature and it stared back at each of them, and for a moment, nothing happened. This quiet moment between three clearly confused beings was broken by a surprisingly polite English accent, which, much to Jethro and Gus’ confusion and concern, emanated from within their minds.

“Uh… hello, there gentleman. Sorry about before, I had a bit of a fall, and may have caused you a bit of bother… that and frightening you by presenting myself in this way, which I honestly had no intention of doing.”

The fact that the creature gestured as the voice spoke to them suggested that it originated from the creature, which wasn’t the only thing that baffled them, as they knew that the other was hearing the same thing without vocally passing words between them. They looked at each other with very confused and shocked faces and then turned back the small grey creature. Seeing this, it continued with its explanation, “As you may have already noticed, the voice you are currently experiencing is not being received by your external senses, rather, its origin is your brain. I have established what you might call a ‘psychic link’ or am performing ‘telepathy’. Do you understand?”

“Ye-yes? I think so?” Jethro said, Glancing quickly to Gus, who was standing to his right, looking equally confounded.

“Good. You don’t need to speak verbally to me, but if it makes you feel more comfortable, go right ahead. Now that we have gotten that out of the way, I can formally introduce myself, I am, as you more than likely suspect, an extraterrestrial being.”

“We figured that,” said Gus, now coming to his senses. And just like that, Jethro just started blurting out questions like: “Where’re you from? Why’d you come here? How did you come here? Aren’t you afraid you’ll get caught? Wha-“

The voice cut him off, “Please I must ask for patience, I know you have many questions, and I will answer any questions you have in time if you so choose.”

Gus was now suspicious of the grey creature, “What do you mean by that? And why would you answer our questions in the first place?”

“Because it is my job to do so.” Replied the voice, “My people are the translators, mediators, and ambassadors of the greater galactic community. This role is normally reserved for formal contact but I thought, given the circumstances, and what I’ve heard the two of you talking about, I might as well. Besides, I simply could not just leave you both standing around frightened and confused in the middle of a forest.”

“But what did you mean by ‘If we choose’?” Gus repeated.

“If you choose to follow me, I will answer any questions you have, and those you were discussing before I rudely interrupted. Or I can go back up the hill, on my own, and you can continue your walk.”

Jethro was, at this point clearly distressed by the whole thing and spoke up, perhaps a little rudely, as the creature was being ever so polite, “Ok, uh, could we just slow down for just one second, and just to clarify, I’m talking to an alien, who miss-stepped and fell down a hill, giving me a headache in the process, landed in front of us, talking in our brains, and is now offering for us to follow… it, so that it can share the secrets of the universe with us? Is that what is happening?”

“Yes,” Gus answered simply.

“As much as I don’t like your usage of the loose terms ‘alien’ and ‘it’, events are occurring as you say they are. However, I do not offer the secrets of the universe as I don’t know all of them, just the more fundamental ones.” the creature responded, pausing for a moment to look at both Gus and Jethro. “You humans can be so very over dramatic at times.”

“Ok, say we go with you, what then?” Gus asked, clearly curious about what would happen next.

“What then, gentlemen, is I take you to my vehicle.” explained the voice.

By this stage Jethro had had enough and said, “No, sorry, I’m done here.” turning to walk back up the path. But before he got anywhere Gus grabbed his arm, “What are you doing?”

“I’m getting out of here, and that’s what I’m doing. Now let go.”

“Don’t you want answers, proper answers, to your questions? I do. And I won’t go with him if you won’t.” Gus said, somewhat surprised and frustrated that Jethro wouldn’t even consider going with the creature.

“How do you know it’s a ‘him’? And how do you know he won’t kill us when we get to his UFO?”

“Why would he do that? And besides, getting killed by an ‘Extra-Terrestrial’ is a far better way to go than getting killed by a stupid tree. Take a risk, and no one gets opportunities like this.”

Those words made Jethro stop struggling, and seriously consider what was happening. He looked at the ground for a few seconds and finally looked up at the small grey creature, “When we get to your ‘vehicle’, what happens after that?”

It was only now that the voice reappeared, “Then if you would like, I can show you my home, and then perhaps some of the rest of the galaxy.”

It seemed that with that Gus was sold, and stared at Jethro pleadingly, “Oh come on J’ro… we can not possibly pass this up.”

“I donno Gus…”

It was then that Gus thought of an excellent idea, “We could visit your star…?”

To Jethro, the prospect of visiting his star was definitely enticing, which to someone else might seem a little silly, since you could see, given the opportunity, any other star, planet, nebula, or asteroid and it would still be an incredible experience. But ever since his childhood he’d liked that star the most.

“Ok…” Jethro said to the creature, “we’ll go with you, but only if we can visit a specific star.”

“We can visit as many stars as you like,” said the creature, amused by the request. “Shall we go?”

“One more question first,” Jethro demanded.

“Yes?”

“Do you have a name?”

With this question, the creature thought for a good four seconds before answering, “I do, but it can not be translated into your language or any other on this planet. Would ‘Andrew’ do?”

———————————————————————————————————————————

The craft of which ‘Andrew’ spoke was unsurprisingly, and at the same time somewhat surprisingly, a flying saucer. However this could only be seen once its sophisticated camouflage technology was deactivated, the technology used, not only the captured image of whatever was on the other side, but it also projected it in the form of a three-dimensional hologram, giving the viewer a perceived depth to the image. A similar technology, of course, was being developed by the Earth’s militaries but was nowhere near this level of application at the time. The craft was exactly eleven meters in diameter, and almost five meters thick at the centre. Its hull was silver with various lights, spread evenly at different intervals along the circumference and multiple radii’ of its surface. When Gus inquired what the practical use of the lights was, as they approached, Andrew explained, “The same reason your aircraft have lights, to be seen when they are needed to be seen. ‘Outer Space’ is quite large, so lights are the best way to make contact, assuming all other means fail that is.”

Jethro decided to continue this slightly obvious line of enquiry, “What about all those sightings, the flying discs and strange lights? Why do you do all that?”

Clearly expecting a sophisticated explanation from Andrew, Jethro was disappointed to hear the real one, “You make mistakes don’t you? Sometimes we forget that the lights are on, sometimes the craft malfunctions, just because we are more intelligent and more technologically advanced, does not mean that we are not prone to mistakes.”

As they approached what appeared to be the entrance to the craft, Jethro started to have second thoughts and verbally spoke about his feelings, not that Andrew couldn’t hear them anyway, “Gus, this can’t be real. I’ve changed my mind about this whole thing. What about your job?”

Gus once again confronted his old friend, “What about my job? THIS is my job, and THIS is everything I've ever dreamed. What about you? What, are you going to go back to your small apartment, and go back to work at that crappy fast food place? AFTER THIS!?” Gus gestured at the silver saucer.

Jethro looked down once again, and then looked at ‘Andrew’, and then the craft. “N-no, I’ll go with you…”

Andrew tilted his head in a kind of nod, and acknowledged Jethro with his disjoined voice, “I am encouraged that you still intend on joining us. I am looking forward to showing you both as much as I can of the greater galactic community.”

And with that Andrew gestured at the entry ramp for Gus and Jethro to enter. Gus let Jethro go first, lest he have third thoughts about the whole thing and run away back down the hill. Upon reaching the top of the ramp, the two took in the scene. The interior of the craft was not lit by the bright white lights one might expect, but by dim, yet warm lights that were only bright enough to make sure that all within was visible. The actual colour of the interior was made up of different shades of light grey, instead of the also stereotypical white. The structure itself was also different, the curved walls that followed the circular shape of the craft were perfectly smooth, with the exception of four visible ‘supporting’ structural beams, which followed the curvature of the wall/ceiling and met at the centre. At the base of each was a station of equipment or controls which were at the time void of any light or visible buttons. However, the most interesting feature of the interior of the craft was the sizeable black sphere at the centre of the large round room.

Andrew then politely made his way past the two intrigued men and headed toward the sphere. As he touched it, lines traced intricate patterns on its surface and lit up with yellow light. And before Gus and Jethro knew it, the whole craft appeared to come alive with sound and visibly activated consoles. As the ramp behind them was raised and sealed, they looked at each other, silently acknowledging that they were now committed to whatever happened next. Andrew the Alien called out to them with his telepathic voice and explained what was happening, “The humming noise you now are experiencing is the propulsion systems starting up, it utilises what I can only explain to you as ‘warp’ generators to propel our craft through the atmosphere and eventually the vacuum of space, or more accurately, ‘space’ itself. Naturally they will also provide us with ‘Earth-like’ gravity for the extent of our journey.”

“Naturally…” Murmured Gus, trying to wrap his brain around what he was currently barring witness to.

“The sphere you see here is where I shall pilot the craft. I shall summon some seats for you, but you should not have to worry too much about standing while we ascend, as the effects of inertia have been greatly minimised.”

“Wait. What? How have you managed that?” Gus blurted.

“I could go into more detail, but the craft more or less uses a technique your fellow thinkers would call ‘Field Acceleration’. Safe and efficient interstellar travel would not be possible without it.” Andrew explained this as he began to step into a round entry way that had appeared on the side of the sphere.

These things meant almost nothing to Jethro, aside from some of the science fiction he was into, he knew nothing of theoretical physics. So he just went with what was being said and decided to keep his eyes out for anything suspicious, like operating tables, or anal probes.

A few moments after Andrew had disappeared into the sphere, two comfortable looking chairs came into form out of the floor. To Jethro and Gus, it looked as if the floor was a sheet spread over two chair-like objets that had simply risen.

“You may prefer to be seated once we begin, as I said you can stand, but you may feel more comfortable sitting as you will never have experienced anything quite like this before.” It was unusual ‘hearing’ the disembodied voice without a visible source to mentally attach it to, sort of like a 3D sound effect, only in your head instead of your ears.

The humming began to get louder and louder, and to their shock the walls of the entire craft (with the exception of the floor and four supports), disappeared around Jethro and Gus, leaving the outside world completely visible. And before they could properly react to this occurrence, the humming suddenly stopped, and the ground the craft was sitting on immediately dropped. The tops of trees fell far below, and it seemed as if the summit of the mountain would do the same, but, it, without notice changed direction and quickly lurched backwards. Jethro quickly sat down in his chair, but Gus remained on his feet, as they had realised that they were moving at break-neck speed, not the world around them, even though everything suggested the contrary. It was only within that same second that their city passed bellow them, and the next second, that coast fell behind as well. Clouds rushed towards them again and again, then the horizon rotated all the way around, and it was then the Gus smiled, realising that ‘Andrew’ was enjoying this about as much as Jethro was hating it. It was then that the horizon angled down and eventually disappeared from view completely. Soon the clouds were nothing but a memory and the sky was clear with nothing but the stars in view. It was then that Gus looked over his shoulder, to see the horizon curve drastically before he turned around completely to see the lit sphere that Andrew was in, and behind it, Earth.

“Jethro! Look at this!” Gus said, grabbing Jethro’s arm.

Jethro, gripping tightly to the chair, already with wide eyes, slowly turned around and saw what Gus was clearly wanting him to see. “Woah…”

Most of the Earth was covered in shadow, but at the same time, it was brightly lit by the city lights, creating a golden web across the North American land mass below, highlighting the costliness and highways. The West was shinning with the reflected light of the somewhat blinding sun, which was only now peeking over the horizon of the planet.

A few seconds later planet Earth stopped getting smaller, Andrew’s now familiar formal voice appeared, “Now that we’ve left your planet’s atmosphere, what was the star you wanted to visit?”

“Well… uh,” Jethro started, “see I don't actually know what it’s cal-“

“Capella.” Gus jumped in, “I’ll give you a mental image of its location in our sky, will that be enough?”

“It most certainly will,” Andrew responded.

And with that, the stars in front began to move across their field of view slightly, until the view centred on one of the many brightly shining stars. It was only when Gus looked back once more that he saw the earth shrinking in size at an incredible rate, becoming nothing like the light of the sun soon blotted it completely from view.

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