This is the third scene from A Taste of Earth,
a science fiction short story in ten scenes.
I will post the entire story one scene at a time each Friday.
I hope you enjoy A Taste of Earth, and I would love to hear from you.
Santa Monica Beach, California, USA
Heavy traffic and barely controlled mayhem greeted Dipesh and John three miles from Santa Monica. The Los Angeles Police Department was redirecting traffic away from the beach and Pacific Coast Highway. With the help of several phone calls, they successfully negotiated a police escort to the Hot Zone, an evacuated gas station, where they donned hazardous materials protection gear, called hazmat suits, in case the fragment carried a biological agent. The officer in charge said that if they waited until they got to the beach to put them on, it would be too late, and he gave them terse instructions on how to operate them. It was Dipesh’s first time wearing the airtight apparatus, and he was sure someone had given him a size too large. The air tank felt heavy on his back until the officer in charge helped him adjust the straps.
When Dipesh tried to engage him in light conversation, the officer said, “You might want to hurry. We just got word that the meteor’s come ashore.”
Dipesh glared at the officer and felt his face flush. “What? You got to be kidding me.” His words slipped into a heavier Indian accent and rushed out. “Who gave them the authority to bring it ashore?”
“No one …”
“Exactly. And now you are telling me that they tampered with material that can not only cause their death but has the potential of telling us what is going on with our environment? The agency …”
The officer put his hand up. “No. It came ashore by itself.”
John asked, “How can a rock wash ashore?”
The officer shrugged. “Listen, I’m only relaying information.”
While Dipesh’s anger melted into curiosity mingled with shame for losing his temper so easily, the officer gave them final instructions on their hazmat suits. “You will be able to communicate with each other via voice activated microphones. Just talk, and those within range will pick you up. Also you can maintain contact with your people if you give the phone number to our dispatch operator.”
A transport truck that looked like a large ambulance took them to the beach with three other hazmat crew members. The large letters DHS were silkscreened on their backs. John asked them what that stood for, and one of them answered with a weary stare, “Department Homeland Security.” No one said anything for the rest of the trip. They arrived behind another police line escorted by the National Guard in camouflaged hazmat gear. As Dipesh emerged, he saw a crowd of spectators mainly on the pier. He wondered how someone would be stupid enough to sneak into the Hot Zone unprotected. He shook his head. Then he realized that they must have been there before the impact, maybe partying for what they thought would be their last day on earth, which might be true if Hachiman were contaminated. He saw a line of the spectators being directed to what looked like a decontamination center. Showers and disinfecting tubs had been set up. Grown men were standing nervously with arms folded and several children were crying hysterically as they followed through the lines.
A tug on his arm from John showed him where the real action was. They walked with the DHS crew as fast as their suits would allow towards a spot on the shore. The DHS crew walked ahead of them towards the receding waves with sensing equipment extended. Through the suit’s thick lining, Dipesh heard the sand shifting beneath his feet. The respirator seal chafed against his cheeks and a bead of sweat trickled down the bridge of his nose, causing an itch that was screamed for relief. but he was powerless scratch it. He took a deep breath. He wished he could smell the salt air, but instead inhaled the pasty, sanitized air from the heavy tank strapped to his back. This is as close as I get to a walk on the moon. A circle of security tape on stakes, sensing gear, cameras on tripods, and over a dozen hazmat-suited workers surrounded a spot at the water’s edge. Enough letters in bold print were silkscreened on the back of each suit to almost complete the entire Latin alphabet: NTSB, DHS, LAFD, NMFS, NAVY, and others. Dipesh thought he recognized a few, but at this point he didn’t care who they were as long as they let him see his rock. The glare from the sun off the waves kept him from seeing the meteor fragment at first, but when he did, he called dispatch for JPL.
“Irene, we’re here. It’s on the shore. It appears to be a smooth, metallic object about a meter in diameter.”
Dipesh edged closer to it. The sun glinted off its surface and warmed the visor of his hazardous materials protection suit.
“It doesn’t look like a typical meteorite. It is entirely symmetric about a central axis. John, log in and post the video.”
John shook his head. “I have no service.”
“You should have four bars here. Interference?”
“No. Network overload. Too many people texting and crap.” John started taking video as the hazmat crew took water and soil samples near the object. “I’ll send it when I get service,” he said.
Dipesh relayed the message and edged closer to the object wondering if the designers of his suit considered insulation from alien microbes. He glanced up and noted the spectators who stared at him behind a thin police line, giving the scene a circus atmosphere.
“Go on,” Irene demanded. “What does it look like?”
“It almost looks like a large horseshoe crab with two tails coming out the sides. The bulk of the mass is shaped like a bloated disk … an ellipsoid. The tails are like long cones jutting out from either side and pointing back out towards the ocean. The cones at the ends intersect spheres the size of softballs. The color is … it’s hard to tell. Appears to be a mottled copper and brass color.”
“That can’t be a meteorite fragment,” John said. “That’s something else, some junk, an old washed up boogie board or something. The real fragment has to be out at sea.”
Suddenly the object sprouted a tentacle on the edge closest to them. The hazmat crew jumped back and John almost tripped over Dipesh. The tentacle drilled into the ground.
_________________________________The entire text is currently discounted: Free. If you would like the entire story as a PDF, click here: A Taste of Earth – Justin Tyme. For ebook format Amazon, visit: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kubo, Smashwords, and others. Copyright © 2011 Justin Tyme