The Starship Mechanic
This story is also available for download from major ebook retailers.
The floor of Borderlands Books had been polished to mirror brightness. A nice trick with old knotty pine, but Penauch would have been a weapons-grade obsessive-compulsive if he’d been human. I’d thought about setting him to detailing my car, but he’s just as likely to polish it down to aluminum and steel after deciding the paint was an impurity.
When he discovered that the human race recorded our ideas in books, he’d been impossible to keep away from the store. Penauch didn’t actually read them, not as such, and he was most reluctant to touch the volumes. He seemed to view books as vehicles, launch capsules to propel ideas from the dreaming mind of the human race into our collective forebrain.
Despite the fact that Penauch was singular, unitary, a solitary alien in the human world, he apparently didn’t conceive of us as anything but a collective entity. The xenoanthropologists at Berkeley were carving Ph.D.s out of that particular clay as fast as their grad students could transcribe Penauch’s conversations with me.
He’d arrived the same as David Bowie in that old movie. No, not Brother from Another Planet; The Man Who Fell to Earth. Tumbled out of the autumn sky over the Cole Valley neighborhood of San Francisco like a maple seed, spinning with his arms stretched wide and his mouth open in a teakettle shriek audible from the Ghost Fleet in Suisun Bay all the way down to the grubby streets of San Jose.
* * *
The subject’s fallsacs when fully deployed serve as a tympanum, producing a rhythmic vibration at a frequency perceived by the human ear as a high-pitched shriek. Xenophysiological modeling has thus far failed to generate testable hypotheses concerning the volume of the sound produced. Some observers have speculated that the subject deployed technological assistance during atmospheric entry, though no evidence of this was found at the landing site, and subject has never indicated this was the case.
— Scholes, Jen West. A Reader’s Guide to Earth’s Only Living Spaceman. Feldman, Jude A. San Francisco: Borderlands Books, 2014.
* * *
It was easier keeping Penauch in the bookstore. The owners didn’t mind. They’d had hairless cats around the place for years—a breed called sphinxes. The odd animals served as a neighborhood tourist attraction and business draw. A seven-foot alien with a face like a plate of spaghetti and a cluster of writhing arms wasn’t all that different. Not in a science fiction bookstore, at least.
Thing is, when Penauch was out in the world, he had a tendency to fix things.
This fixing often turned out to be not so good. No technology was involved. Penauch’s body was demonstrably able to modify the chitinous excrescences of his appendages at will. If he needed a cutting edge, he ate a bit of whatever steel was handy and swiftly metabolized it. If he needed electrical conductors, he sought out copper plumbing. If he needed logic probes, he consumed sand or diamonds or glass.
It was all the same to Penauch.
As best any of us could figure out, Penauch was a sort of tool. A Swiss army knife that some spacefaring race had dropped or thrown away, abandoned until he came to rest on Earth’s alien shore.
And Penauch only spoke to me.