|Chapter 6: The Hitchhiker
In Which Our Heroes Finally All Get Together
George was getting tired of holding the sign. He'd been out here for a while, and it didn't look like he was going to catch anyone's eye. His plans often didn't work, but he always tried them none the less.
What else was he supposed to do?
George had reached the point where hope had abandoned him, yet futility hadn't overwhelmed him. It was at that precise moment of balance that the blue car pulled up in front of him.
George was ecstatic.
At this point, it didn't matter to him if the people in the car understood the sign or not. He'd take a lift from anyone he could get one from. Squinting he tried to look past the glare of the sun and into the windshield to see who might be operating the vehicle. It appeared to be a young couple in their twenties. The girl was red haired and arguing with the blond haired boy behind the driver's seat. He was just shaking his head.
Even George could tell the boy was losing the argument.
After a few moments, the young woman emerged from the car with a chipper smile, while the young man simply looked dejected behind the steering wheel.
"So, you looking for a lift?" she asked politely.
George felt nervousness fill his stomach. She hadn't asked that question in English.
This could either be very good or very bad for George. There really wasn't any room for in between in this case. If they were in town, this might be some of them. On the other hand, this pair didn't exactly look like the kind of people he should worry about. He also realized she had asked him a question, and that he needed to actually respond to it.
"Yes..." he said slowly. How long had it been since he last spoken out loud? "If you could give me a lift... you'd be a life saver." He made sure to use his native tongue on the off chance she'd notice.
People using translators rarely noticed when someone spoke a different language, it was only written text where things became obvious. Only people who were multilingual or spent a lot of time in alien environments usually paid enough attention to the spoken word to catch the translation in action. George spoke fifteen languages and had spent the last ten years on an alien world... so he was a bit of both.
She gestured to his sign. "I take it you're not a local?" she asked.
George nodded in response. Of course, he had the sign. The sign was in his own language as well, and had been part of the plan. Why had he forgotten that? George made a mental note to be more attentive.
The woman relaxed a little, "Where you from?" she asked.
George cleared his throat, "Are you familiar with sector 14?"
The girl nodded in response.
"The third moon of Quintallis Four... little town on the southern continent called Maren," he lied. It was only a small lie, he had often visited the place as a child and would rather visit there than the actual place he grew up. He had actually been there just a month before his exile as well, so his memories of Maren were as clear as any other place that wasn't a back alley.
"Isn't that on a chain of lakes? I heard it's gorgeous there," she beamed. "My friend Tara spent a week there last year and she loved the place. She's much more outdoorsy than I am though... I've spent most my life in transit stations and cities..."
"Yes, it's beautiful," interrupted George. This girl could really talk.
"Well, here's the thing, we can only get you out of town. I don't have a ship and my phone's not getting any signal to call for a ride," she said sheepishly.
No signal? No traveler went to a primitive planet without a relay system. Usually it was in their ship, but there were other options. That meant that they must be jamming any subspace signals out of the area. Maybe that's what yesterday's events had been about.
For some reason George felt like he had missed something obvious, but it wasn't making itself clear. It would come to him eventually.
"...and then I ran into Randall at the coffee shop," Ruth continued.
George snapped to attention. She had been talking this whole time, and George had zoned out. He hoped he hadn't missed anything important.
"Anyways, the whole point of our trip is so I can get my phone in range of a friend's ship to make a call off world," she sighed. "So, do you still want a lift?"
George nodded, "Yes... it would be appreciated."
She smiled, "Good then. Well, as I said, I'm Ruth and the sullen looking yet capable driver here is Randall."
"I'm George," he replied... it was strange to say his own name out loud.
The girl... Ruth... her name was Ruth... Ruth walked over to him and shook his hand quickly. "Well get on in George, we've got a long trip ahead of us." Ruth looked at his backpack, "Is that all the gear you have?"
George nodded, and approached the car. Ruth opened the back door for him and he climbed in.
As Ruth got into the front passenger seat, the young man... Randall? Yes, Randall... he looked at her and under his breath asked "Are you sure about this?"
Ruth just smiled back at Randall and shrugged. The boy did not look reassured. The boy had also spoken in English. That meant the boy was a primitive.
George made a mental note not to call the locals "primitives" in front of Randall.
"Hi, I'm George," he said after an awkward silence. George was feeling incredibly uncomfortable.
The boy exhaled, and turned around, "Sorry, I'm Randall. Randall Walker. Sorry for being rude." The girl perked up at hearing his full name, as if she were making a mental note. How well did these two know each other?
"Well... lets get out of here," said Randall with reluctance, pulling the car back onto the freeway. "We'll probably stop for lunch in about an hour, if you have a preference, feel free to voice it."
George thought about this. He had a few dollars on him, so eating today shouldn't be a problem. He was going to have to deal with money in the long run though, as these two didn't look like the type to stop by a soup kitchen.
As the car drove eastward, the silence continued for a while. Finally, Ruth hit a few buttons on the stereo, and a cacophony of sound erupted from the speakers. She turned to the boy excitedly.
"I had no idea the new CD was so good!" she said in an excited tone.
The boy glanced at her, "New? That came out three years ago."
She stuck her tongue out at him, "Well, it's new for me, okay?"
She went on for a while about minor harmonies in the second chorus of something or other, and how it contrasted something else lyrically to show some deeper ironic meaning... George honestly didn't care. It was all just noise in George's mind, completely indecipherable noise.
George began to realize that this was going to be his soundtrack for most of the trip: two people in their early twenties bickering in circling flirtation while a 4/4 rhythm pounded with heavy bass behind his head. George decided there was only one solution.
That solution was to fall asleep.
Over the past decade, George had developed the ability to fall asleep under just about any circumstances. It came to him easily having spent so much time on the streets, and while noise was an issue here, it was still a comfortable, cushioned backseat.
He was out shortly... although his subconscious ended up being pierced by a fusion of Irish punk music and Japanese hip hop.
Needless to say they were very strange dreams.
George awoke to the car slowing down. He opened his eyes to see the signs of several chain fast food restaurants out the window.
Randall sighed. He was talking to Ruth. "Well, fine, you can get whatever you want, and we can meet back at the car afterward."
"Good!" she replied to him with a smile and a quick nod. Had the two really been like this the entire time he was asleep? It amazed George slightly. Ruth turned back to face George.
"Ah good, you're awake. We've stopped for lunch if you're hungry," she said, as Randall stepped out of the car.
"I heard..." replied George quietly. He opened the car door and climbed out himself.
Ruth climbed out of the car and looked at him, "Just meet us back here when you're done eating." With that, she bounded off towards one of the restaurants. Randall, who was standing next to the vehicle rolled his eyes, and locked the car doors.
George instinctively flinched. His backpack was in the car, and for the moment he was cut off from it. He knew that he should relax and trust these people... but the instincts were still there. George forced himself to put it out of his mind.
"She must be quite the handful," George sighed, turning to Randall in an attempt to engage the primitive.
"You have no idea," responded Randall. "I'm going to get some food over there," he said, gesturing to a sandwich chain location they were nearby. "Care to join me?"
George shook his head, "My tastes run in different directions." He thought about trying to make conversation with the primitive boy, but it just seemed a challenge. It would be awkwardness on every level, and this early in their voyage he felt it would be inappropriate to subject either one of them to it.
"Well, then I'll see you back here in a bit," said Randall, as he walked off.
George thought about what he did want for lunch. His options were limited, as was his budget. After weighing everything for a minute, he finally came to a decision though: George wanted tacos.
George went in pursuit of tacos.