Broken Friends

Chapter 29

“Jack, I want you to join me for an outing tomorrow.”

Daniel popped his request in the sofa as the evening’s hockey game was drawing to a close. Jack eyed him hesitatingly. The archaeologist had been on the computer half of the time, and while Jack had assumed he was cramming in some extra work he had apparently been making plans for the following day.

“Okay…” Jack replied. “What are we doing?”

“It’ll be a surprise. But it’ll be exciting. We could see it as me getting a chance to repay you for the hockey initiative.”

Jack wasn’t entirely sure the outing would be as riveting as Daniel made it sound. If it was a payback for the hockey it would most likely entail an interest of Daniel’s, and that probably meant some kind of museum. Not that that necessarily meant it would be all bad. Jack had been to museums with Daniel before and the experience was…unique. It was like going around the exhibits with your own private live commentator tape; informative and actually somewhat entertaining. It was not however what Jack would describe as exciting.

Daniel woke Jack up at six AM. To the colonel’s surprise he was told to put on warm and sturdy clothes. Don’t really need that at a museum, he thought as he pulled on a pair of blue jeans and a warm sweater. Daniel insisted on driving. He sat in the driving seat with an anticipatory grin; his fingers thrumming on the wheel with excitement.

“Where are we going?” Jack repeated his question from last night with curiosity seeping from every pore in his body. Daniel turned his grinning face to him, and shook his head.

“You’ll see.”

They headed southwest out of Colorado Springs. As they drove Jack continued to repeat his question over and over, like a whiny impatient child, but Daniel refused to tell him where they were going. Finally Jack stopped asking.

After an hour’s drive they reached a township called Cañon City. Daniel slowed down, uncertainly looking around as if searching for something. When he drove past a sign reading ‘Royal Gorge Bridge’ he almost stopped for a moment, then he nodded and continued on.

“What are you looking for?” Jack asked, unable to contain his curiosity again.

“Hm?” Daniel turned his eyes to Jack for a moment. “A store, to buy some equipment.”

“What kind of equipment?” Jack pressed on; encouraged by finally getting an answer, but Daniel just threw him another secretive grin.

“You’ll see.”

At last Daniel parked the car in front of a rather unexpected store. The huge neon sign above the door read “Xtreme Sport”, and reminded Jack of a TV-show written by an alien he knew. Entering the store Jack felt at home straight away, but he was surprised that Daniel had picked this store, since its wares were mostly related to climbing. While Jack perused the shelves, Daniel approached the sales clerk at the counter.

“Hello,” he said, in that same voice he used to greet people they met off-world. “We need some rope for bungee jumping.”

Jack, who had been covetously fingering a titanium climbing hook, swiveled around to stare at him. A silent ‘What’ formed on his lips. The clerk eyed both of them suspiciously, before answering Daniel’s request with an equally suspicious tone.

“I can sell you that. But I have to ask where you were planning on jumping?”

Daniel leaned over the counter with conspiratorially lifted eyebrows.

“I read online that the Royal Gorge Bridge was an excellent place.”

The clerk shook his head and held his hands up in a warding off gesture.

“I’m sorry pal, but that’s illegal. It will be allowed during the Go Fast Games in October, for people who are competing.”

A frown rushed onto Daniel’s face and deepened into a mope as the clerk hopefully continued:

“Would you like to buy the rope anyway?”

“No!” Daniel’s snappy response sounded like a grouchy kid, and his following behavior was to match. Straightening up the archaeologist stuck his hands in his pockets and kicked the base of the counter. Then he stomped out of the store, mumbling foreign words that the people left inside were probably better off not understanding.

Jack and the clerk stared after him as the muffled sound of curses disappeared behind the ‘ping’ of the closing door. An uncomfortable silence fell. Jack cleared his throat and turned to the clerk, who was visibly attempting to figure out what had just transpired in his store.

“Ehm…sorry about that,” Jack said and tried to figure out an excuse for Daniel’s behavior. “He’s been under a lot of pressure lately… The counter is fine,” he assured the clerk when he tried to bend over it to check for damage from the kicking. The silence stretched out for another moment.

“I should go check where he went,” Jack finished and made a hurried escape out the door with a ‘ping’.

Daniel let Jack drive home; with an inarticulate grunt as affirmation when Jack asked. The pout still firmly on his lips, he sat on his side of the car with arms crossed across his chest. He even put up his feet on the dashboard – repeatedly since Jack kept telling him to take them down. The reprimands were the only words shared between them. Daniel was obviously not in a mood to talk, and Jack simply didn’t know what to say. All he could think was how he completely did not understand anything that had happened.

Sam fired up the computers in her lab and apprehensively selected a file from the Jihnnsai data base. Daniel’s notes translated the title as ‘physical (or) biology’. He had given the content a go as well, specifically on Sam’s request. A request she had made because the file might contain some revolutionizing medical discoveries she could pass on to Janet. Her other top choices had been the files about ‘transportation’ and ‘energy’, but Daniel hadn’t gotten around to those yet.

The text made no more sense than it had last time she studied it, since Daniel’s attempted translation only was fragmental in its best parts. There were some graphics that helped; schematics of bodies and anatomic sketches. Those had helped Daniel determine the topic of the file. Most of the sketches were of creatures she had never seen – alien – but one was more like a human being. Until now it had seemed an odd illustration, because it depicted only an upper body placed above a tornado. Now she recognized the shape – Jihnnsai.

The image had tags attached to the body parts, and one attached to the tornado. Daniel had been able to translate most of them, their placement helping greatly in figuring out the words. As a matter of fact the tags had been very helpful for the rest of his work with reverse engineering the alien language into an English translation. Sam let her eyes rest on the untranslated tag on the lower part of the sketched being.

“Us-hayat,” she read out loud. Where did that come from? She did have a list of the letters, made by Daniel and stuck to the side of her computer screen, but she hadn’t looked at it since she came in this morning. Somehow she just knew the sound of the word.

“Us-hayat,” she repeated with a small laugh of excitement when another insight hit her. It must not really mean anything; it’s just the name for that part of a Jihnnsai’s body. That’s why Daniel couldn’t figure it out. No human language would really have an equivalent to it.

Spurred by her sudden breakthrough Sam eagerly dug into the rest of the file. She assumed that the inexplicable understanding was due to her granted wish, even though it was a little disturbing to just know without learning. Nonetheless she proceeded, making a mental note to have Janet check her over later just for safety. It worked best when she didn’t try too hard, so she simply stared at one word at the time until the meaning came to her. It wasn’t quick, but slowly she was finally making progress.

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