Friday, December 6, 2013

Me and Aldaris (p24): Smells Like China

I wasn't napping this time.  This time I was sitting on the hotel bed, waiting for the hot water pot to finish so I could cook some ramen.  Mmm...ramen.  I'd already cut up some broccoli and tomato to put in it.  It was beef flavor, of course.  I don't like the other ones.  Wait, nevermind, I do kind of like the shrimp flavor.  Which is weird, because I don't like shrimp for real.

Oh wait, we're talking about adventure, not food.  Well, that's how this adventure started out: I'm sitting here in a hotel room, wondering what I wanted to stuff in the microwave.  The creepy, creepy hotel microwave.  Actually, this place isn't so bad.  It's way better than that really sketchy hotel I had to stay at in China, with the windows and lace curtains so that anyone in the room could see what was happening in the bathroom.  Don't ask.

In any case, this hotel didn't have that.  What it also didn't have were all the possessions I didn't have with me when I was at school.  That's right, my house caught fire.  I don't know what it was, but since it was up in the roof, the firemen think it could be something electrical.  It's not like I ever go up there.

The thing that pisses me off the most is that it was my fantasy house.  I don't care that the back deck was warped from the rain or that it was putrid color of spoiled mustard yellow.  I like spoiled mustard yellow.  It was my little writer's home, a place where I was hidden away from the world without being far from it.

But whatever.  The damage wasn't bad...from the fire.  Water damage is the main problem.  Well, it could have been worse.  Now all there was to do was sit here and wait for them to let me in my house for the rest of my stuff.  And I'd just bought a nice dress, too.

I was attempting to amuse myself with an Anne McCaffery novel when all of a sudden a blue cloud formed around me.  Great, another random transport.  Seriously, if Aldaris wants to stay hidden he's going to have to do something about that recall whatever.  I was mad.  I was starving, and it's not all that probably that Cheonha would bring food both times she got accidentally zapped up to the alien starship.  So for the few seconds it took to reappear, I cherished the hope that one of the guys would accidentally have a bag of chips or something in his hands when he gets recalled.

Only it didn't work out that way.  When the blue fog cleared away, I wasn't on Aldaris' ship.  I was standing next to a two lane dirt road on the middle of a steep hill.  The upwards slope was dotted with trees, and went far up above my head.  The downward side allowed for a view of another forest below, as well as a farm down and to the left.  I backed away from the edge.

"So you're here too?"

Oh crap.  I found myself joined by John and Toby, both as confused as I am -- and thankfully both in proper clothes and not their underwear.  Unfortunately, all four of their hands were empty.  No snacks. Great.

"So where are we this time?" Statkus huffed.  "Why aren't we on Aldaris' ship?"

"I don't know about you," Toby gazed on our surroundings in delight.  "But this is an improvement to me.  Now I really feel like the Doctor.  We're here exploring a new place, totally foreign and strange, and we have no clue what will happen next!"

I sniffed the air.  "It smells like China."

"What?" John frowned.  "You can tell where we are just by smelling the air?"

"No.  It just means that wherever we are, it smells like China."

"China has a smell?" Toby drew in a breath.  "It just smells...okay, well not quite just like a normal countryside.  There's definitely something in the air."

"Can we stop talking about how it smells and actually figure out what we're doing?" Y'know, when Statkus looks at his surroundings, it's like he's gathering intell.  His head bobs from point to point, like he's calculating coordinates in his cyborg brain.  "Wherever we are, we're going to need to find food and try to get in touch with Aldaris."

"And how do you suppose we do that?" Toby said.  "He didn't exactly give us a cell phone number -- if our cell phones actually work here."

"I don't have a cell phone..." I scooted a toe on the ground.

"Why are you such a troglodyte?" Statkus snapped.  "Look, if this is like last time, Aldaris is going to need to charge his teleporter again before he picks us up.  That means we have to wait here until he picks us up again."

"Right here on the road?" Toby asked.

"No, not here.  He'll probably see us better up there." Statkus pointed up the hill.  "It's not steep, and hopefully I can get there without shoes."

"As far as where we are goes," I said.  "It was night when I was teleported out, prolly for you too, John, right?"


"Okay, so we must be on the side of the planet where it's daytime.  Around ten or so hours forward or back as a time zone."

John nodded.  "We're definitely somewhere far off.  I sure hope Aldaris finds us soon, because if he doesn't, things are going to be interesting.  Let's finish this conversation up the hill, alright?"

We trudged up that hill.  It wouldn't have been so bad, if only John'd had shoes.  The hill sloped steep, but not that steep, and the long grass provided great traction, as well as a cushion for poor John's blisters.  And it served as a hiding spot for little rocks, the ones just right to dig into the arch of the foot and send a thirty-two year old man (it's so weird thinking of John as a man) into a fit of pain, where his back arched and his fingers snatched at the grass to keep him from falling.

Toby offered to go to the top and then throw his shoes down to John, but John just scowled at him.  In the end me and Toby just went up ahead of him and kicked rocks aside so John would have a clear path to walk.  He didn't want our help, but we ignored his whiny little pleas to be allowed to hurt himself like  a man.  Okay, so maybe John is a man after all.

We finally made it up, and John sat ever so carefully on the grass, trying as hard as he could to make it look as though his feet didn't hurt.  Pssht, let him have his pride.  I don't care.

"So he'll see us here?" Toby sat under a small tree, one of four or five on the top of the hill.  "I don't know.  If he has a computer, I don't see how being higher up is going to help him at all."

"Maybe he'll see us sooner," John peered into the sky.  "But the point was more to just get off that road without going too far."

I didn't sit.  There was too much to see.  The hill, a lengthwise stretch of hill far longer than wide, sloped downwards after only ten or so yards, and on that side more civilization lay.  And by civilization, I mean three fields with scattered workers plowing and doing other things I was too far away to see.  These fields went up across the next hill over, a smaller one compared to the one us foreigners perched on.  Directly below us, and still on the slope of our hill, was another road.  An Asian man on a tractor drove by.  He didn't see me beyond the brim of his straw had, but I returned to the others anyway.  There's no need to attract too much attention.  Thought the person standing on a high hill.

I sat next to the guys -- by now John had relocated near Toby under the tree, despite the fact we were up there for quote unquote visibility.  I scooted in near the tree's roots.

"There's the people over there to think about." I pointed back to the other side of the hill.  "There's some farmers over there.  If we stay near this side of the hill, I don't think they can see us from this angle, but we better not wander much.  Also, I think they're Asians."

"Wow, so you really can smell China." Toby chuckled.  "That's not a very good ability."

"We don't know that for sure." John said.  "In any case, we have to be prepared for what we have to do in case we get caught."

"If we are in China," I said.  "We could be in serious trouble.  Legally they can hold a foreigner without charging them for eleven months.  Granted, I'm not sure that they will, but given that we just randomly appeared in their country without explanation, we could be in for a tough time."

Toby glanced at me.  "How do you know so much about Chinese law?"

"I'm a criminal." I winked back.  "Clearly."

"We're not here without explanation." John broke in like a sledgehammer.  "We have to tell them what happened to us.  We have to tell them about Aldaris."

"Uh...." I winced.  "The Chinese are far less likely to believe us than most.  Especially not since we're two Americans and a Brit."

"It doesn't matter.  If we get trapped here, we don't have a choice." John stopped rubbing his feet.  "I know for some reason you feel like you have to protect the guy, but Aldaris got us here, and if he can't get us out, we don't have a choice.  It doesn't matter if no one believes us, because even if they don't, someone possibly will in America, in NASA."

I tried again.  "It may be better to say nothing---"

"Bethany!" John hissed.  "Stop it already.  If we have to tell someone, then that's how it's supposed to be.  I'm not going to sit in an interrogation room while people think we're spies or refugees.  Besides, think about it.  How much time does it take to even get from where we live to the other side of the world?"

I winced.  John really had a point.  And his hazel eyes demanded an answer.  "Well, it takes about 15 hours to cross the Pacific ocean.  Assuming you started out in San Francisco."

"Exactly." John nodded.  "And we are now in some foreign country in less than half an hour.  I was on the phone with my girlfriend right before the recall happened, so there's literally a phone record confirming how quick I got to this place.  How do we explain that?"

Well, that's that.  I stared into the landscape, hoping to see some indication of where we were.  Specifically, a giant grey wall.  There's the Great Wall of China, and then the wall of shame -- the concrete wall they erected specifically for the Olympics so that foreign visitors wouldn't see all the ghetto-looking farmlands to the right and the left of the road that leads to Beijing from the airport.   Finding this wall means it's possible to head to either location, and it's fairly common to see foreigners in Beijing or the airport.  Plus the airport has all of this hilarious, well-painted propaganda in the halls, and it's hilarious as all get out.  Either way, if Toby had money (I'm sure John didn't, and I didn't either), then we can get food.

I see no wall, and my little fantasy ends with a sigh.  "Okay.  Just remember that if they try to get us to sign a statement, write 'I don't speak Chinese' on the bottom before you sign your name.  Just in case they play you."

"Then it's settled." John stretched out his legs in front of himself, relaxing in his victory over me in the argument.  "If we have to tell, we tell."

There was silence for a moment, and we just sat there and listened to the ambient noises of wherever we are: faint engine sounds, the occasional voice calling out, and the wind rushing through the hills.  Toby fidgeted a little.  He's not the guy that sits around in silence.

"Y'know," Toby said.  "I wonder how many laws we've broken."

"What do you mean?" John asked.

"Well, we're in another country without a permit, for one thing.  And we're consorting with an alien being."

"That's not technically illegal." I mentioned.  "No laws on aliens yet."

"Okay." Toby nodded.  "But this is still three counts of traveling without a visa.  Plus that time I came to America by accident.  Four counts."

"We might not have any alien laws," Statkus said.  "But I'm sure we're guilty of conspiracy by not telling our governments."

"Alright, three counts of that on top." Toby nodded.  "That makes seven.  Oh, and one for Cheonha too.  Eight.  Plus, it's technically stealing that Aldaris' ship accidentally took up all those things the first day.  We're all accessories, so that's five counts."

"Oh, and Aldaris kidnapped us all.  That makes four more."  Statkus groaned and lowered his face into his hand.  "Oh great, I've been kidnapped by an alien."

"An illegal alien!" I said.  "He went down to America to have a break from the ship, so he's an an illegal alien!"

"Hahahaa!" Toby guffawed.  "That's the best!  And that makes....eighteen!  We're totally criminals!"

"Don't remind me." Statkus rolled his eyes.  "I sure hope Aldaris gets back where he belongs soon, or else-"

A sudden voice barked at us, and all three of us jumped up in shock -- John nearly fell over again from stepping on a twig.  By the time we turned around, the man, an Asian whose hateful expression far surpassed his stature, had me by the arm.  I tugged out of his grip, but not out of the power of his annoyance.  He shoved a tanned finger in my face, saying words I didn't know.

"Chalmot arasoyo..." I tried, knowing that's not the right way to say you don't understand.  "Yongkuk arasehyo?"

That made him even madder.  I don't know how.  It's just korean.  All I knew was that a bunch of Asian guys were coming up the hill toward us.  I was too stunned to move, but Toby and John ran for their lives. Toby ran off somewhere, I don't know where.  They caught Statkus, though.  John ran downhill, but those same rocks that got to him earlier found their way right under his feet, and he fell out, rolling headfirst down the hill.  I ran down towards him, but so did the strangers.  I tried my best to get them to leave him alone, as you're not supposed to move someone who could have spinal damage, but they hauled Statkus to his feet immediately.  He was still conscious, but blood smeared down his head.

And it was pretty clear we weren't getting away.

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