OUT OF TOUCH"Jazon, you're watching it speeded up again." Marie spoke gently with the non confrontational tones of the seasoned space traveler. But Jazon saw her shoulders were tense for there were no secrets after all these months with just the two of them in the return module."It's not too bad now," said Jason. "We're slowing down all the time. It may still be a bit compressed but it's a real live signal from Earth. I like live. It was great to be picked for deep-space but there is something special about getting to go home. Listen to this guy. Don't you think he sounds a bit like Mickey Mouse?""So we get to listen to a four hundred year old rodent," said Marie. "Go on record it and play it back with the Doppler edited out. Please, it's great to get regular Earth programs again and we've been far enough away and moving fast enough to have some real catching up to do.""OK you win again, take the control," said Jason and they settled down to watch Marie's choice of Earth TV played at the correct speed."Hundreds to choose from and you pick an old Star Trek," said Jazon.For a while they watched the scary monster head speaking American English with a strange accent and little attempt at grammar, telling the poor Earth-folks what they needed to know about the new world order."Don't you dare change the channel, I love Star Trek," said Marie as she went aft to the galley to get herself something for a TV snack.When she returned, what she saw caused her to let it float forgotten from her grasp .In the few minutes she had been gone, Jazon had turned pale, almost grey. She reached out with the back of her hand and found the perspiration strangely cold on his face. His chest heaved in a struggle to draw breath and he held the TV control at arms length as if it had suddenly become something evil.Jazon struggled to find the words and they were words Marie would never be able to get out of her mind. "They're all the same. All the channels are the same."It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment of realization. Nothing that had come before had prepared them. Everything that came after was chilled in its shadow.Throughout the long days and weeks that followed, their fragile enclave flew on lit by ancient starlight that now had a cold and sinister quality about it. They didn't use the manual override to set a new course. What was waiting for them was all the more terrible for their fall back to Earth was inevitable. They had nowhere else to go. Nothing to do except wait until the tug of Earth's gravity would take hold to reel them in like they were on the hook of some distant uncaring angler.There was little variety in the transmissions but they recorded them all and played them back over and over again. Nothing beamed out of Earth except what the invaders beamed out. The message was simple. They had dominion over all of the Earth. They were 'The Orrrg.' Apparently it meant something like 'Gods' in their own language and they saw themselves as superior beings that must be obeyed with a servitude that reeked of worship.After way too many days of this, Jazon went off without a word to the propulsion pod. He was gone a long time but Marie knew not to interfere."I think I know what that is," said Marie pointing to the makeshift device he brought back.It was not a time for words. The longest look they had ever exchanged was all that was needed. With this, they agreed. It could be little more than a gesture of defiance but they had sufficient fuel reserves for a gesture that would run to a good few megatons.The Earth drew closer. Soon they could see it as a far off speck with even the modest optical equipment they carried.Then the Orrrg transmissions stopped abruptly and completely. Nothing came in their place though Jazon and Marie took turns to listen for something, anything that might break the empty silence."The lights are on but is anyone home?" said Marie for the lights of Earth's great cities were reaching out to them as they prepared for a night descent and watched the heat shield deploy.The landing was unexpectedly heavy and they were glad to be well strapped in. They had ploughed into soft soil just deep enough to prevent them opening the hatch from inside."Don't cry now, after all we've been through," said Jazon. But he found himself sniffing just a little too for here they were like rats in a well sealed trap waiting ...For Marie and Jazon there was something scary and unreal about any sound from outside after hanging for so long in the noiseless void. They shrunk back into their seats as unseen tools scraped and clanged on external hatch fastenings.Then fresh air, good clean natural Earth air rushed in and it was human hands that helped them out."I've to take that," said the leader of the recovery party. It seemed all so natural that Jazon had handed over his trigger device before he realized what was happening. Then the unspoken question in his eyes brought a smiling reply. "Get used to it. They know what we're thinking and I'm sorry but you'll have to wait for any more answers. Orders are orders."So it was in near silence that they were taken to the aliens.Jazon and Marie gasped it out together for their many years in the vastness of deep space had given them something like the closeness of thought of identical twins. "You're not what we were expecting.""Ah, of course you wouldn't know. We're the second wave. Much smarter and much nicer than these 'orrible Orrrgs." The little round smiley creature bounced up and down gently as he communicated without any need to move his mouth. He seemed to be very much entertained by his own clever mastery of an Earth language that some might have found difficult.He continued, "Please relax. Just sit here for I want to know everything about your journey."After barely a couple of minutes, the alien left the room without even another glance in the direction of Marie and Jazon.A party of uniformed humans came to lead them out. "He'll have read every minute of your journey." said one. "They're very quick. It's a great pity you came back carrying a weapon of mass destruction. They're not bad but the one thing they will not tolerate is any kind of threat to their person. If you know that, you're all right but of course you didn't know. We're taking you to your quarters now. Try to make the best of it."The smell hit them first."It's a Zoo," said Jazon as they were led past cage after cage of Earth's most exotic animals. Then came the shock of seeing the human exhibits. Some called out; others just stared blankly as they were led by."Breeding pairs," said Marie quietly.They stopped at an empty cage that lay at the far end of the human pairs and beyond which stretched a line of caged Orrrgs that hissed and spat and rattled their bars.Locked in and left on their own, Jazon and Marie were careful not to get too close to the side of their cage where a large Orrrg pair threatened them noisily through the bars. They had drinking water but no food so this was the first thing they asked their human neighbors on the other side. However, apart from a few muttered words about not looking forward to feeding time, little response was forthcoming.All at once, a new activity outside the cage stirred up a fresh frenzy in the Orrrgs next door. Human helpers set out a row of small chairs that were soon filled by a group of smiley alien children all clutching paper bags."Oh no," said Marie. "They're going to throw us food.""Perhaps they'll want us to do tricks for it," said Jazon.But when the smiley children opened their paper bags it was to eat their own lunches as they looked expectantly at Marie and Jason eager to catch every moment of their reaction to seeing the bars slowly raised between themselves and the hungry Orrrgs.endOut of Touch was published in Separate Worlds, June 2012.First appeared as the Runner-up inAdult Creative Writing Club Competition No.106, June 2010.