Author : Mark Tremble
The gravel road leading to the dumping ground is the colour of washed bone in the moonlight. Nothing moves except the leaves of ironbark trees when the night breeze comes. Inside the caretaker’s trailer, which is parked closer to the piles of industrial waste and away from the thick stench of rot and decay, Ted Murray wakes to begin his night’s work.
Ted takes his mug of tea over to his workshop, a big iron shed really, annexed to his trailer. He flicks on a single light and sits on the stool behind a long bench. He takes a rectangular box from under the bench, checks its contents and closes the lid. He goes to the shelves on the wall behind him and begins sorting through the various tools and stacked containers. The objects within look like rejects from a mad scientists’ fair.
Outside, despite the moonlight, another illumination, much brighter, flashes in the sky. A sound, like a single deep note from cello strings, can be heard but, at this hour, so many miles from the town and its adjacent mine there is no one but Ted to hear it. An accompanying gust of wind sends a flurry of white dust across the shed’s corrugated tin walls but Ted continues to rattle about behind his workbench.
From outside the locked door comes the sound of faint scratching in the gravel. Ted stops mid-lift, a box in one hand, turns his head. The scratching grows louder and comes closer to the shed. Ted replaces the box and paces quietly toward the door.
He stops, holds a breath, because the noises have ceased. Ted moves a half-step closer to the door handle. An outstretched hand shudders. He is sure he can hear someone, or something, breathing. Ted shakes his head and takes a full stride to the door, flicks the lock and wrenches the door open.
On the other side stands a creature half his height. Its skin-like covering is a faint purple. It looks up at Ted with a quizzical countenance. In its small right-side appendage is a battered metal object.
“Geez Namon, what’s with the sneaking up? Just knock next time!” Ted says to the creature.
“Didn’t know if you were open or not,” Namon replies in pretty good Earthspeak, his long arms held wide. “I just flew 57 light years to get here!”
“Well, you could always fly on to Centauri and get yourself a bargain there,” Ted counters, eyebrows raised.
“Those pirates?” Namon asks.
“Come in. Whattya need?”
“A new velodrive interchanger. This one’s had it. On my account?”
“I’m a loyal customer,” Namon says.
“And I’m trying to run a business here. I can’t give credit to every creature in the galaxy, can I? Especially you.”
Soon, Ted finds the same thing Namon has brought; only Ted’s is polished and new-looking. The pair exchanges goods for legal tender. Ted catches the little creature’s despondency when the last of the money drops into his lockbox. Ted opens the lid again and returns a single note.
“Get something for the little one,” Ted says and tries not to smile when Namon’s pond-like eyes brighten.
“Ted, you’re the kindest human being I know,” the alien says.
“I’m the only human being you know,” Ted replies. Namon nods, turns and opens the door to the shop. Another creature, even shorter than Namon, waits on the stoop, object in claw.
“Alright, who’s next? Gronsil? What’ve you broken this time?”
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