The Alphabet Challenge: “V” Story No. 1 of 3 — “Voyager”

This is the 22nd round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS<<link post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For this round, it’s the letter “V“.

Readers have two weeks from the date of publication to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.

In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.

Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.

The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the PG-rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Some readers might find a few of the stories disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, and if so, stop reading and move on.

Here we go. Presented anonymously, the first of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “V” as submitted by its author.


Copyright 2020 — E. J. D’Alise

(3,515 words – approx. reading time: about 13 minutes based on 265 WPM)

Applicant No. 3378594 Screening Interview

Screener: “You’re interested in volunteering.”

Applicant: “Yes. I think I can be of great value to your Alliance.”

Screener: “Hmm … I don’t see any of the qualifying skills listed in your resume. Did you forget to include them?”

Applicant: “See, here’s the thing; I may not have the specific skill-set you’re asking for, but I’m a quick learner and …”

Screener: “What is this item on your resume, ‘Investment Advisor’?”

Applicant: “I helped customers invest their money to maximize their return on investment. See, that’s the kind of …”

Screener: “Ah . . . that’s the ‘Stock Market’ game you humans play. Sorry, that’s not useful to us at all. However, we will keep your name on file in case the quota is not met. Thank you for coming.”

Applicant: “But … but …”

Screener: “I said: ‘thank you for coming’. Please exit through that door and feed your resume through the slot just outside the door.”

Applicant 3378594 — whose name was Winston Lewis — rose and exited through the indicated door. Once outside, he found the slot and fed his resume into it. The grinding and whirling sound he heard as he walked away gave him little hope that he would be considered.

Loosening his $200 tie, he stepped outside the building, and as he headed toward the parking lot, he glanced over at the sea of humanity waiting to get into the building. Most were skilled and unskilled laborers, lucky ducks.

* * *

“This is Jayden Murray coming to you live from our studio in Washington DC. Next up, we have an exclusive interview with the representative of the Galactic Alliance, Dan George.”

JM: “I want to thank you for your time. I imagine you must be very busy.”

DG: “Not at all, Jim. Our negotiations with the United Nations are over, and now it’s just details. My part in this affair is over, and I’m just enjoying the sights before I return to my planet.”

JM: “It’s Jayden. Forgive me, but I must ask about your choice of names. I understand your actual name is too difficult to pronounce, but why Dan George?”

DG: “Well, Joe, on the way to your planet, the onboard entertainment offered up many of your motion picture offerings, and I was particularly taken with Chief Dan George. There’s something about his persona, mode of speech, and demeanor that appeals to me. Two of his outstanding efforts — ‘Little Big Man’ and ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ — would not be watchable without his contribution.”

JM: “It’s Jayden. That’s interesting, Dan, but let me get to what I’m sure many people are interested in learning.”

DG: “Ah, I assume you mean the Indentured  Service Program, Jack.”

JM: “It’s Jayden, and yes …”

DG: “Sorry, John. Earth names are unfamiliar to me and difficult to remember without an associated concept.”

JM: “It’s Jayden, and I’m sorry, but what does that mean?”

DG: “Jared; right, I’ll try and remember it, but it’s difficult because our names are typically associated with concepts. For instance, my real name {squawking noise followed by squeaky toy noise} references the concept of tertiary resonance redundancies in binary rogue planets; easy to remember for my kind. To my auditory system, your name — Joel, right? — sounds like random noise.”

JM: “So, if I were to tell you that the name Jayden describes the farting noise of a camel, that would make it easier for you to remember?”

DG: “Why, yes, Jayden; it would.”

JM: “… unreal … anyway, Dan, getting back to ISP, could you describe in a few words what it is?”

DG: “Well, Jayden, I’m sure many are already familiar with the program, but it’s basically an offer to productive members of humanity to volunteer for a ten years indentured labor contract aboard Galactic Alliance ships. In this case, it’s cruise ships.”

JM: “Your planet has seas?”

DG: “Sorry, Jayden; I should have been clearer. I mean space cruise ships.”

JM: “Dan, let me read you some numbers. In the US alone, more than 65 million families have already applied. In terms of individual people, the number is approaching 250 million. Of those, how many have you accepted?”

DG: “I’m happy to inform you, Jayden, the acceptance rate is pretty high since the only major requirement is that one has to be a laborer to qualify.”

JM: “I don’t understand, Dan. What kind of laborer?”

DG: “Let me give you an example: you wouldn’t qualify because you don’t do anything of value.”

JM: “I head one of the most-watched shows on cable television. That sounds at least somewhat valuable!”

DG: “I’m sorry, Jayden. I didn’t mean to belittle your perceived importance based on a skewed set of values. Let me ask you this … at the end of the day, have you produced anything of value? Have you added anything to the human condition? No. You’re reading stuff other people wrote. Stuff that summarizes stuff that other people researched and was initially reported either by citizens or field reporters. A computer program reading the words can replace you, and no one would know the difference.”

JM: “… I … you … uh, my producer is asking me to stick with the questions, but perhaps we can discuss my contribution during the commercial break.”

DG: “I look forward to it, Jayden.”

* * *

Applicant No. 67478594 Screening Interview

Screener: “You’re interested in volunteering.”

Applicant: “Yes. I’m a man of many skills and can be of great value to your Alliance.”

Screener: “Hmm … I don’t see any of the qualifying skills listed in your resume. Did you forget to include them?”

Applicant: “Well, I read the requirements, but there must be a mistake.”

Screener: “A mistake?”

Applicant: “Yes, all of the listed qualifying skills can be done by just about anyone. Surely, you accidentally left out higher-skills qualifications.”

Screener: “No, there were no omissions in the qualification list, and don’t call me Shirley.”

Applicant: “What?”

Screener: “Sorry, I watched one of your motion pictures during our voyage here, and I liked that particular line of dialogue. But, to address your concern, let me ask you a question or two.”

Applicant: “Sure!”

Screener: “You say anyone can do those qualifying skill. . . do you know how to maintain a garden?”

Applicant: “… er … no. I mean, we always had people …”

Screener: “I see. How about building something with tools? Cut someone’s hair? Repair an appliance?”

Applicant: “Well, no, but I assume I can learn …”

Screener: “I suppose so, but … here, let me ask you the following: it says here that you are a CEO of a multi-national company.”

Applicant: “Yes, I am! This year we had one of our most profitable …”

Screener: “Yes, yes, but the question is this: when was the last time you hired a person at random and trained them for a specific job?”

Applicant: “Well, we look for the most qualified individuals, usually someone with a degree from a prestigious school.”

Screener: “Like this Yale School listed in your resume?”

Applicant: “Yes! One of the best schools! Very difficult and expensive to attend.”

Screener: “And yet, there is no gardening or carpentry degree in the curriculum.  Sorry, that’s not useful to us at all. However, we will keep your name on file if the quota is not met. Thank you for coming.”

Applicant: “But … but …”

Screener: “I said: ‘thank you for coming’. Please exit through that door and feed your resume through the slot just outside the door.”

* * *

JM: “… but people want — no, not just want — love to hear me tell them what they should think … uh … Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen. We’re here with Dan George. Dan, if you don’t mind, I have a list of questions from our viewers …”

DG: “So, these are not questions you’ve thought up?”

JM: “Well, no, but … look, let me just shoot a few questions at you. Things that are on our viewer’s minds.”

DG: “Sure! But, we also have an interactive call-in line that will answer all questions. I believe your government has informed people of the number to call. By the way, we get many calls asking if we have Prince Albert in a can. Who is he?”

JM: “Er, I wouldn’t worry about it, Dan. Let me ask the first question from Gladys Hogan. She asks: ‘How do we know you’re not just looking to eat us?’ … wait; did anyone screen these questions?”

DG: “Ah, the old Twilight ‘it’s a cookbook!‘ episode. We found that very humorous because humans have no taste! Get it? No taste … anyway, Jayden, the serious answer is this: we’ve come from outside your solar system on ships that use more power in an hour than humanity uses in a year. Harvesting and eating humans would be an incredibly inefficient way to provide food for the crew and passengers. We synthesize our alimentary requirements in our matter transference department. Besides, it’s not like we even knew about humans until the accident, so there are no cookbooks and no plans to write any.”

JM: “Robert Dean asks: ‘Is it true you offer immortality?’ … Dan, that’s something I’m also curious about.”

DG: “Immortality is a bit of an exaggeration. We can indeed rejuvenate cells and have advanced medical facilities and knowledge, but if you were to, for example, get eaten by a {crowing and chirping sound}, well, there’s not much we could do for you; you’d be dead. But, barring extreme injuries, one can expect to live for many centuries.”

JM: “Are …er… whatever you called those things on your ships?”

DG: “No, Jayden, that was just an example. The animal we call {crowing and chirping sound} lives on restricted planets. You’d have to steal a ship and illegally travel to those planets for you to get eaten by a {crowing and chirping sound}.”

JM: “I see. Irwin Whitley asks: ‘Indentured service sounds a bit like slavery’ … that’s something many people are wondering about, especially given the terms of the contract. Twenty years seems like a long time to pay off a debt not of our making.”

DG: “There’s a lot to unpack there, so let me address it as simply as I can. If I understand it correctly, the average workweek here in the US is forty hours, with many people working extra jobs to make ends meet. In contrast, our workweek is twenty hours. The rest of the time, you have full use of the ship’s facilities. This is, of course, in addition to medical rejuvenation treatment, room and board, and the eventual Galactic Alliance citizenship.”

JM: “That … that sounds too good to be true.”

DG: ” I don’t know what to tell you, Jayden. That’s what the terms are, and we’re not forcing anyone to join. Of course, the catch is that it involves manual labor, labor that is too menial for our automatic systems to perform. Cleaning, maintenance, and personal services are some examples of what’s expected.”

JM: “Can you expand on that?”

DG: “Sure, Jayden. Let me ask you a question as a way to answer that and make it relatable. Presumably, you, or your partner, make the bed every morning. Now, have you ever considered buying an expensive machine to make your bed? How about wiping counters, doing laundry, fixing a broken table leg?”

JM: “Well, no … we either do it ourselves or hire someone to come … but … but, those are mostly menial jobs!”

DG: “That’s exactly the word I used. Here’s the thing, Jayden, when your life spans hundreds of years, you tend to lose interest in the menial things. So, it’s nice having someone doing those things for you.”

JM: “My producer has informed me we are late for a commercial break. We’ll continue right after this message from our sponsors.”

DG: “I look forward to it, Jayden.”

* * *

Applicant No. 3 Screening Interview

Screener: “You’re interested in volunteering.”

Applicant: “Yes, but I don’t have much to offer.”

Screener: “Hmm … I see by your job history that you meet a number of the qualifying skills. What makes you say you don’t have much to offer?”

Applicant: “Uh … I don’t have a college degree.”

Screener: “Did you need one for the jobs you held?”

Applicant: “No, but that’s why I had those jobs. Without a degree, I didn’t qualify for much else.”

Screener: “Let’s see … you started at a fast-food place …”

Applicant: “Yes, that was while I was in high school.”

Screener: “That shows initiative and responsibility.”

Applicant: “Yes, but all I learned was how to sling hamburgers and clean floors.”

Screener: “That’s a useful skill as a member of a cruise ship service crew. I see that after high school, you worked at various jobs; some in construction, some with a delivery company, and most recently as a janitor for an office building.”

Applicant: “Yes, I know I jumped around a lot, but I couldn’t afford to travel, and the only stuff I could get were seasonal jobs. The janitor job doesn’t pay much, but we needed insurance because we’re expecting a baby.”

Screener: “You’re aware we prefer to enlist entire families?”

Applicant: “Yes, and I have a few questions about that.”

Screener: “Ask away.”

Applicant: “Well, my wife won’t be able to work for a while, but perhaps we can then work in shifts to make up the hours.”

Screener: “I’m sorry; make up what hours?”

Applicant: “There are two of us, so that’s 80 hours a week for ten years, right?”

Screener: “Oh, I see the problem. No, only one of you has to work, and it’s not 40 hours a week. It’s 20 hours a week for ten years. Either one of you can work to meet the required number of hours. But, if you want to work in shifts, you can each work ten hours a week for ten years.”

Applicant: “Are you serious!?”

Screener: “I’m sorry, but those are the terms. We realize it’s a hardship …”

Applicant: “A hardship!? Heck, we could do that with our eyes closed!”

Screener: “… uh … while we can make provisions for visually challenged individuals — or restore their sight if they so prefer — we don’t encourage people to work with their eyes closed. It’s a safety issue, you see …”

Applicant: “What? No, sorry. That’s just a saying to indicate it’s no problem. But what about the baby?”

Screener: “Well, that could be a sticking point. We prefer families because when the young ones come at age, they will be required to fulfill the same 20 hours per week for ten years before they are granted full citizenship to the Galactic Alliance. Is that going to be a problem?”

Applicant: “OK, let me review and confirm what you’re telling me …”

Screener: “…and what’s written in the sample contract you’ve received…”

Applicant: “Yes, so … we sign on, travel in one of your space cruise ships as indentured laborers for ten years. During that time, we’re required to work a total of 20 hours per week. You provide room and board, advanced medical care, full use of the ship’s facilities when not working, and after the ten years we become citizens and won’t have to work again for the remainder of our lives?”

Screener: “I believe you covered everything.”

Applicant: “I have to check with my wife, but I’m certain you can count on us to volunteer.”

Screener: “Excellent! We’ll draw up the contract, and you can take it home to your wife. You have two weeks to decide. Also, if you could tell family and friends about this opportunity, we would be most grateful.”

Applicant: “Believe me; everyone is going to hear about it.”

* * *

JM: “And we’re back. We’re here with Dan George. Dan, you said you wanted to expand on the answer to Irwin’s question.”

DG: “Yes. Specifically, the length of service relating to the debt.  Jayden, I believe you said the debt was not of your making.”

JM: “It wasn’t. At best, it was an accident. Also, based on the details provided, there is some fault at your end.”

DG: “It was indeed an accident, but you didn’t carry any insurance. Let me ask you, Jayden, are you allowed to drive without insurance?”

JM: “I see where you’re going with this, but most insurance carriers offer uninsured motorist protection.”

DG: “That is true, but uninsured motorists are still liable and face legal action and fines.”

JM: “Well, Dave, that’s not the case if you live in a no-fault state.”

DG: “And that would be great if we were in the {mooing sounds followed by farting noise} Galaxy, but we live in the {burping sound followed by the sound of nails scratching a chalkboard} galaxy.”

JM: “I don’t follow you.”

DG: “Sorry. I’ll repeat it in your language; you would not be liable if we lived in what you call the Andromeda Galaxy, but we live in what you call the Milky Way Galaxy.  Launching a spacecraft in this galaxy requires at-fault insurance coverage.”

JM: “I see. So, you came here as a representative of the Galactic Alliance to serve us notice of legal action against us?”

DG: “Not exactly. I came to serve you notice of the liability verdict against you, and to let you know that you owe the Galactic Alliance the equivalent of two-point-five-three septillion of your dollars.”

JM: “But, we didn’t know there was even a trial! We didn’t have the chance to defend ourselves, to present our case.”

DG: “You were notified but chose not to reply.”

JM: “You mean the supposed extraterrestrial signal that sounded like a mix of accordion and bagpipe music?”

DG: “That was legalese informing you of the charges against you.”

JM: “How were we to know!?”

DG: “Well, Jayden, that factor was taken into consideration during the negotiations with your United Nations and resulted in a drop in the fine to one-point-three-nine septillion of your dollars.”

JM: “I still don’t understand how one of our crafts could have caused that much damage.”

DG: “The {wet balloon noise followed by vomiting sound} ship … sorry; the ship called the Gallant Mosquito in your language, was the end product of the collaboration of fifteen planetary systems in four different galaxies and was meant to usher a new era of travel between galaxies. Due to the damage your craft caused, the project was set back by nearly one-hundred-and-fifty-years. The punitive damages take into account both the material and labor cost and the revenue lost by the delay.”

JM: “And you say it was Voyager I, our Voyager I, which caused the damage? I have to tell you that relative to the size ship you describe, Voyager I is minuscule. I don’t understand how it could have caused so much damage. The craft barely tops seven-hundred pounds.”

DG: “It’s ironic, really. The Voyager craft was the right size to fit inside an overlooked exhaust port of the moon-sized ship, travel to the engine core, and once there, it impacted an exhaust fan, stopping its progress. Unfortunately, a gold disk was dislodged from the craft and managed to bridge the contacts of the {sneezing sound followed by raspberry sound} negative antimatter drive, which in turn caused the entire engine compartment to destabilize and collapse itself into a micro black hole. Luckily, no one was hurt, or the punitive damages would have been even larger.”

JM: “That story sounds vaguely familiar. Are you sure you’re not making it up?”

DG: “We have a visual record of the impact, and even 16K HD video of the disk dislodging and shorting the contacts of the {sneezing sound followed by raspberry sound} negative antimatter drive. It’s how we found you; the disk had directions back to this solar system inscribed on its surface.”

JM: “So, let’s review; we owe a lot of money that even if we had it — and we don’t — isn’t legal tender in your civilization, so you’ve come to a settlement whereby the debt is repaid with indentured labor. Earth is now hoping there will be at least five billion volunteers willing to sign on as indentured laborers. Tell me, Dan, what happens if there aren’t enough volunteers to meet the settlement?”

DG: “Oh, don’t worry, Jayden. We already reached and passed the quota. At the pace we’re going, we’ll top seven billion acceptable volunteers, easy.”

JM: “You’re kidding! Who’s going be left?”

DG: “From the data I have about our interview process, it’s what you call the top ten percent … You’re one of them, Jayden. I might suggest learning how to do a whole lot of stuff. Stuff like cleaning toilet bowls, dry cleaning, repairing cars, butchering meat, growing crops, maintaining the electric grid, and the rest of your physical and virtual infrastructure. Who knows; maybe there’s an app to help you with all that.”

The End

If you’ve already read the other two stories and are ready to vote, click HERE<<<Link and you’ll be taken to the voting poll.

If you’ve not read the other two stories, they can be found at the following links:

Virgil Wins the Lottery <<Link

Valor <<Link

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