Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Xavier Xanthum: X Marks the Spot

 

I checked our huge world atlas, and found no mountains starting with X. There are rivers in China, of course, but I don't know anything about them, so instead of doing research, I returned to my favorite space explorer, expressly invented for my first A to Z Challenge...Xavier Xanthum, Space Explorer! Here, at half-flash size (just over 500 words) is a bonus fiction feature. I couldn't find any photos...

 Xavier Xanthun: X Marks the Spot

The Wanderlust gave a terrific lurch as it entered the atmosphere, and Xavier Xanthum, Space Explorer, felt his body stretch the crash straps as they decelerated at far more than the usual rate. He didn’t even have time to ask the computer what was up before another bump indicated that they were on the ground.

Xavier sat back and ran a hand under the straps to ease the tightness. “Larry? What was that all about?”

“My apologies, Xavier.” The computer’s voice sounded mechanical, which meant he was busy with other tasks. “The ground occurred a great deal sooner than anticipated.”

Xavier sat and worked that out. “The atmosphere was thinner than you expected?”

“Not precisely. There appeared to be an extrusion from the planet’s surface at this point. It was not on any charts.”

“We have charts for this planet?”

The computer fell silent for a minute, then the floating eyeballs that were Larry’s preferred manifestation appeared next to Xavier, who had started to unbuckle his safety straps. “You might not want to do that just yet. I am attempting to access charts. There appears to be some kind of local communications system.”

Xavier felt a stir of interest and concern. Inhabited planets were exciting. Often, too exciting. You never knew what might bite you.  An inhabited planet that wasn’t indicated as such on any charts was particularly worrisome. “What are you getting?”

Larry hesitated before answering. As a computer, he did not need to pause to marshal his thoughts, but Xavier had noticed that Larry liked to do so anyway. “The local sub-ether information system has provided a map.”

“Great! So what does it tell us?”

A moment later a map grid appeared on Xavier’s viewscreen. It showed a few concentric contour lines with an X in the center, the lines getting very close together indeed near the edges, indicating steep slopes in all directions. A little flag read, “You are here.”

“Zoom out, Larry. We need some context.”

Again, that odd pause before Larry answered, his tone completely flat and mechanical. “It will not zoom out. Attempting again.”

Xavier watched in fascination as the image fluttered a bit, and the flag was replaced with another text, rendered as “X marks the spot.”

“What spot would that be, Larry?”

“I believe it is the spot where we are.”

“How very helpful, Larry.” Sarcasm was wasted on the computer, but it made Xavier feel better.

“Would you like to attempt to explore further?”

Xavier gave it some thought. The planet was inhabited. The inhabitants had communications systems, which they used, apparently, to communicate as little as possible. His mind drifted off to the last planet they had visited, where settlers had built a lovely little resort by a warm ocean. “Let’s just go back and mark our X on that beach again,” he said, a little dreamily. He settled back in his chair, and the eyeballs lingered on him as his eyes closed, a smile playing about his face.

After take-off, Larry made some adjustments to the interplanetary chart. Hereafter, travelers would know that this world featured a very high mountain that went by the name of X. And some rather unhelpful inhabitants.
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©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2015

4 comments:

  1. Well X did mark the spot, nice call

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    1. Thanks, Bill! A good map is a life saver. A bad map?...

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  2. This has got to be the hardest letter. I've used Xian, China, eXtermination, and the Cyrillic Kha, which is an X. I think I should find and x-word and then pick the theme, lol.

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    1. That might be a good approach! Maybe I'll do that next year :D

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