We came through for breakfast next morning with the all around wall screens showing a rather gorgeous underwater world. Now I have said that we mostly prefer to park in space with the stars all around, but when Captain is in charge of the helm, we can be sure we will be parked underwater. None of us ever object, because we can really appreciate the varied colourful active life there as well.
Our passengers however, being skeptical of our having arrived on earth already, were now certain it was a video. I found them talking amongst themselves on the matter. Where’s Captain I asked the lad. She’s making the scrambled eggs, and Pilot is making the toast and tea. He was doing a search for something on a smaller screen at the control panel.
Take a look at this, he said. I walked over and looked over his shoulder. There was an article from an older Italian newspaper. In Italian, which gave neither of us any trouble. I read it. She’s dead, he said. According to the obituary she was.
I went to the group at the table. Now being served bacon with scrambled eggs, and a mountain of toast with butter and marmalade, or jam, and milk, or tea, or coffee.
Can I ask you the year and the date you were blasted into space on your trip to Mars? I asked.
They told me. Spot on, the lad said. Someone has waited three months before publishing this.
Is there a problem? They wanted to know. I told them bluntly. According to that Italian newspaper dated three months after you left earth, your doctor friend there, I looked at her, is dead.
Oh my God she said, standing to read it.
I’ll put it on the big screens, the lad said. It appeared instantly.
Eat your breakfasts and we’ll look further into the accounts of all of you during those times later, I said. I must confess that there was no media mention of your trip at the time. Something that has been bothering me since we found you. You don’t exist any more.
We all got involved, and within an hour we, with the power of the ships computer, had tracked down obituaries for them all. We also found a few articles involving them from before that. Just run of the mill stories in which they were briefly mentioned. School photo’s, Graduations, charity works. Normal stuff that fills out local papers every week.
So what happens now? They wanted to know.
We are all going shopping, my wife said, he, pointing at me, and I have decided you need to walk streets again, and enter shops, and other places, and spoil yourselves rotten. Not without need, I think you’ll all agree. After all you can’t wear those coveralls for ever. Though you’ll have to wear them today, for a while at least. At least they’re clean and decent. People will just think your part of some convention or something.
Ladies, she continued, you will make appointments at various hair dressers for as soon as possible, and get really feminin again.
We have no money, they all shook their heads.
Captain’s signal to bring a tray from the kitchen loaded only with fourteen envelopes full of Euros.
You’ll notice that we are catering for the children as well. My wife was saying. For clothes, and small toys, and a quality push chair each.
Everything else you’ll get when you get housing of your own, with somewhere for things to go, but that will probably be from the local authorities.
I told them that I didn’t want them coming back later today with any money.
You should spend it all my wife agreed. Plenty new clothes. Warm jackets. Suits for the men. Handbags and purses for the women. First stop I think. Somewhere to put the purses and make up. Buy wallets gentlemen.
That is the job for today I said, and we’re all coming.
Only when we walked down the ramp onto the grass in Geneva did they believe we were in fact back on earth, I think. We were just a short walk from the shops. When we got to the end of the streets I told them we would all meet here again in six hours.
The women set off to find shops for them. Us men set off to find gents outfitters. Remember the push chairs are blue and pink I told my wife, but she just gave me a strange glower.
We all met each other in various groups several times during the day. The kids were in lovely new fawn coloured chairs. My wife glowered again. It’s the clothes that are blue and pink. She shook her head, honestly, men. Absolutely they agreed. The women were all in different gear. Mostly jeans or skirts, but none of them were still wearing the coveralls or sandals, except the children, who’d be dressed later to save time. My wife and the girls were doing well. This was important. The lad and I were just as successful. The men were all in casual clothes complete with shoes, and had bags of other clothes to carry. We had all had our hair cuts, but the girls could only get appointments for next day or the day after. I had a new dress suit and two new shirts myself. The Lad bought a quality jacket.
We met up at the time and place appointed. A very weary, but happy group.
We put the purchases in our rooms on the ship, and then I asked if anyone would like to go out for a meal in the city? A chance to relax and enjoy the evening.
I had seen a restaurant that I thought might be a nice place to eat, but my wife had seen another, and she won. Children welcome.
Over our meals our new friends wanted to know what we planned to do next?
Tomorrow, I said, the women with hair appointments will keep them, they can all go, and the rest of us will research the origins of your water pump. The broken one still on Mars, and we’ll try to track down who placed the order for it. We’ll do the same for your other tools.
In a day or two we will think about resettling you somewhere here on earth, but that news that you no longer officially exist is going to complicate things.
You will be seen as illegal immigrants. Unless we can prove who you are. Or rather who you were, and get you proper identification.
The pump was made by a firm in the Netherlands. Good choice I thought. They know about pumping water. When we took the model numbers into their office, and they had looked it up, they had to call in a manager.
Is there a problem with it? He asked.
The main block is split, I said, but what we’re really interested in is who placed the order for it?
I’m not surprised it split, he said, because it was made specially for them. A one off.
Different in what way? I asked him. Because we’d just walked through his factory with rows of similar pumps. New ones. We did not make the main block. He said. It was cast elsewhere to our design, out of a light alloy. Some of the smaller parts are ours, but in the main it was alloy parts. To keep the weight down. I suggested to the German.
We were all there. The lad and I, and six men from Mars, dressed like city gents.
Probably. He agreed.
Our pumps are built of steel that we can be sure will last, and repair if required, but that one we cannot replicate. Easily. He added. No need. I told him, but can you tell us who placed the order.
It says here, and I remember now, it was a U.K. Media company. BBC in fact. He looked at me expecting me to say something. It was the builder who spoke. He continued. I remember being told that there was a reality show on U.K. television. Something about selecting people who were suitable to become astronauts.
I remembered it, though I’d never watched it. Have you got a signature of any individual? I asked hopefully, but never expecting an answer.
It was a J. Johnson. He said. He turned the paper for me to see. Can we have a copy of that, please? I asked him. And one of your sales brochures. We could use a good free standing pump for pumping out ships that have taken in water. Another day, weeks later, we bought a large one with an engine, that we could set on the decks of ships and leave running, to collect again later.
We thanked him, and hurried back to the ship with the copies tucked in my pocket. Now we could let the computer search for real people. If we got the follow on names I hoped for. This was real progress.