Written and Read by Montgomery Thompson
Sitasti kept his lidless eyes on the military activity. Everything was going perfectly. The natives were about to declare war on each other. Once they wiped each other out, the planet would be his, every rock, tree, and ocean. As long as the natives didn’t see him, he would still be within the confines of the law. When he finally made his claim public, he would be wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. The record would show that he was legally protecting a native from an off-world attacker. Was it his fault the stupid primitives blew each other out of existence? No, not his problem, just convenient that’s all, and the court couldn’t put him away for that. He would walk away the richest man in the sector.
His tongue flicked in and out as he thought of what he would do with his newfound wealth, but a sudden noise broke his daydream. There was someone there, someone close by. There, a native!
Sitasti had been so preoccupied he’d forgotten his chameleon camouflage. Now the native boy had seen him. Sitasti scrambled on all fours and caught up with the fleeing boy. He overtook the child and rose up in front of him, scaring him to a standstill. Then, when his target was frozen with fear, he coughed up a dark mass of toxic catarrh with deadly accuracy.
Spence had been making his way to a quiet area in the trees where he’d camped many times before, but as he approached the place, he knew someone was there. Quietly, he pulled aside a leafy branch to get a better look. His heart froze at the sight of some kind of giant alligator as it turned and looked straight at him.
Before Spence even made the decision, his legs sprang into action. Fear blew the craftiness right out of him as he crashed headlong through the undergrowth without thinking about all the paths he knew. Scratched and bruised, he heard the giant reptile right on his heels. Any minute he knew he would feel those claws in his back.
Suddenly he realized that he couldn’t hear the creature chasing him anymore. He’d lost it! He looked back and sure enough, it wasn’t there. Relieved, he slowed to catch his breath. That’s when the creature appeared right in front of him.
Spence froze as the giant reptile reared back on its hind legs and opened its huge jaws, then everything went black.
The last thing Spence thought was that it wasn’t so bad getting eaten by a reptile. It didn’t even hurt.
Sitasti tied the native’s hands with an IdentiStrip, then called his ship. The onboard computer would home in on the IdentiStrip’s signal and use its tractor beam to hoist the native up. Sitasti had included instructions for the youngling to be stored in a locked compartment. As the child was hoisted up to the ship, Sitasti returned to his work at the shield that was protecting the old man.
He’d keep the young native unconscious until he could figure out how to erase the boy’s memory. There were ways of doing such things, none of them pleasant, but then Sitasti had too much riding on this to have it ruined by some pesky native boy. At least, for now, he would be out of the way, safely stashed away as a prisoner of GMD Fives and Nines.
“Sir! The prisoners are gone!” the radio crackled.
“What?” Debry was driving back to the farm. “You idiots! It was a woman and a teenager, how did you let them escape?”
“Well, sir, we—”
“I don’t actually want a description, you shikhead! It was a rhetorical question!” Debry threw the radio microphone to the floor in frustration, but the coiled cord sprung it back into his face. He batted at the radio, grabbed the microphone, and tore it off. “DRIVER! Take me to that farm!”
“I’m going as fast as I can, sir.”
“Well go faster!”
“That’s physically impossible, sir.”
Debry fumed in the back seat as the car finally drove past Mortimer’s house. The old man was working away, painting the shed. The sight of him made Debry all the more furious. As the car pulled up to the tent, he sat in the back seat for what seemed like an hour. The driver came around and opened the door.
“At last! What took you so long?”
“I was going—”
“I know, I know, as fast as you can. Bleemin’ dape.” He stomped into the tent and cracked his shin on the stump that was the main table. “Arrgh! WHO PUT THAT THERE?”
“Don’t. Say. It.” He leveled his finger at the guard’s nose, then sat down to nurse his shin. “Get me Central on the vox.”
A soldier handed him a phone receiver.
“This is Debry. Get me Central Command. General Puxley? Debry here. They haven’t cracked it, sir. The brains say that the technology is way beyond us.”
The General’s voice could be heard echoing from the vox. “I don’t care what those crackpots tell you! If Olred can invent it, we can figure it out! I want you to escalate, see what it can take!”
“But it seems that the more we hit it, the bigger it gets.”
“Maybe the bigger it gets, the weaker it gets. It has to have a limit. Everything has limits, Debry, including my patience. I said escalate, Debry, ESCALATE!”
“Yes sir.” Debry handed the receiver back to the radioman. “He wants results? He wants escalation? I’ll give him escalation. Private, get me Air Command.”
The radioman handed Debry the receiver again. “This is Debry. I want a Decimator on target zero in five minutes.” He handed the receiver back to the radioman. “This should wake up the neighbors.”
The camp began bustling with activity. Soldiers took cover and vehicles were moved. Soon Debry stood in the tent doorway wearing sunglasses and a helmet.
“Any time now.”
“Sir, you should take cover.”
“And miss the moment that makes me the greatest military leader in history? Nonsense, soldier.”
Suddenly, the entire army camp began to move of its own accord as the invisible shield started to grow and push outwards. Vehicles tumbled and rolled, tents were flattened under the invisible wall as soldiers stumbled out of the way. The shield grew over a hundred meters in seconds, throwing the army into chaos. Debry was tossed around inside the tent, narrowly avoiding being crushed by his car.
When the chaos finally stopped, he crawled out of the mangled tent, his helmet gone and his sunglasses bent and broken. Disoriented and swaying slightly, he stood up just as the jet thundered overhead.
The blast from the Decimator threw Debry twenty feet through the air. He landed in the mud outside the latrine tent and skidded to a stop. Everywhere was devastation. The bomb had knocked down a whole section of the forest that wasn’t covered by the shield. Soldiers stumbled around trying to get their bearings while vehicles that had been set ablaze by the shockwave exploded around them.
Debry pulled himself up out of the muck and staggered over to the ruin of his command tent. From somewhere inside the pile of canvas and poles, a phone rang. A hand reached out through the pile of lumber that used to be Debry’s bookcase.
“For you, sir,” croaked the radioman.
Debry took the charred receiver. “Debry here.”
“Well, is it still there?”
“Escalate! Dammit, Debry, I told you to escalate!”
“I did, sir, as big as it gets.” Debry’s head felt fuzzy and his vision was blurry.
“I don’t care! I want bigger!” the General shouted.
Mortimer settled into his comfy old chair as Aga came out from the kitchen.
“The weather sure is doing strange things, Morty. All this thunder and flashes of lightning but no rain. I never seen the like.”
Mortimer just smiled and kissed her hand as he took the meal. They said their prayer and settled down to watch the nightly news.
“The delegation from Olred has departed, saying that if Fremian’s aggressive attitude doesn’t change then there may be no other option but war… Wait a minute, this just in.
“We interrupt tonight’s broadcast to bring you the following exclusive from the Fremian government. The Fremian Counsel declares that the Olred Republic has been conducting espionage on Fremian soil and using its citizens in military experiments. These experiments look like the development of weapons of mass defense for use against Fremia and its allies.
“This action by Olred is a self-evident declaration of war. There is no other way to respond to this declaration than by answering with our own declaration. As of this evening, we, the Fremian people, are in a state of war with the Olred Republic.’
Mortimer reached out for his wife’s hand.
Outside, Debry put down the receiver. ”You have your orders, Captain, open fire.”
Spence woke in a cramped space. He was on a rubbery floor in a hot and dark closet. His face felt squeaky clean and there was a strange taste like soap on his lips.
“Hey! Let me outta here!” He stood and pounded on the door. Suddenly, the door opened and a pair of huge, bright green eyes appeared out of the blinding light. “What the—”
“No, prisoner,” chimed a pleasant, monotone voice.
Spence ducked under the floating eyes and out into the light. As he adjusted, he took in his surroundings. He was in something like a bright hotel room with no windows and slick surfaces everywhere. The floor was the same rubbery material. It was squishy to stand on but still gave him some traction.
“I’m not your prisoner! Who are you?”
The eyes followed him into the room. They were attached to a cluster of robotic arms suspended on a track in the ceiling. The arms reached for him, but Spence was quick. He had played similar games on the field at school and he ducked around the arms until they became crossed up.
“Stop moving,” the voice intoned.
“Whatsa matter, too fast for ya? Can’t catch me? Your one slow robot!” Spence dodged and weaved around the arms until they stopped reaching for him.
“Alternate strategy, negotiation.”
“Oh, you want to talk now? Fine, tell me who you are and where I am.”
“GMD Fives and Nines secondary lunar orbit. Thun.”
“What the shik are you talking about?”
“Identity and location.”
“Wait, your name is GMD?”
“Fives and Nines. Yes.”
“Who named you, another robot?”
“Figures. Okay.” Space narrowed his eyes at the thing and folded his arms. “ So, GMD, what is fives and nines? Where are we, and why does my face feel weird?”
The robot’s arms tucked in as it spoke. “Answer one: Fives and Nines is a part of my name. Apparently, when I was a prototype, my creator named me during a conversation in a card game. For some reason the voice imprint captured part of an arbitrary conversation.
“Answer two: Secondary lunar orbit. Thun.
“Answer three: The paralytic digestive adhesion that was used on you is the primary biological weapon of the gleekrin. Gleekrin gestate the compound in an organ specifically evolved for the task. The mixture is then coughed up at a high velocity at the intended victim with the intention of covering its breathing passages. Paralysis is instant and can last for several days unless the compound is removed. Yours was removed due to life-support concerns.”
“Okay, wait.” Spence held up a hand to pause the thing. “Something was stuck to my face? Is that what that reptile did?”
“Paralytic digestion adhesive is used to stun prey, keeping it fresh until consumed. Your metabolism reacted to the paralytic in such a way as to cause a high probability of cardiac arrest; life-support systems recommended removal in order to preserve the master’s catch.”
Spence didn’t like being referred to as anyone’s ‘catch’, but he shrugged. “So, I was going to have a heart attack if you didn’t take that stuff off me? I guess I owe you one, thanks.”
“Gratitude. Uncommon. Response unknown.”
“Just say ‘you’re welcome’. Geez, doesn’t anyone have manners anymore?”
“You are welcome.”
Spence smiled at his minor success in altering the robot’s programming. “You said we’re in orbit around something called a thoon. What the heck does that mean?”
“You do not understand the data concerning your location. I will show you.”
The floor went transparent.
Spence was confronted with the vastness of space stretching out at his feet. Startled, he jumped back and pressed against the wall behind him. It took a minute to take in what he was seeing. Even in a state of shock, he recognized the smaller of the two moons rotating steadily beneath them.
“W-wow!” he stammered. “We’re in orbit around Danos!”
“If that is your name for the smaller of your two moons, then you are correct. Escape without death is impossible,” GMD intoned.
In the distance, the planet and the large primary moon floated like jewels in a sea of stars. Spence just stared, shaking. “O…okay, you can close the window now.”
“Yes, GMD, just close the bleemin window!” The floor turned back to its original, dark opaque color. “So, you must belong to that reptile thing I saw in the woods.”
“Master Sitasti. Yes, he is the owner of this vessel.”
“Okay, so he must have sent me up here.”
“That is correct.”
“Why? Is he gonna eat me?”
“Possibly. Though Master’s usual diet consists of various invertebrates within the arthropod phylum that have a chitinous exoskeleton—”
“In other words, bugs. So I’m not for dinner, but what does he want with…hold on, I get it now. I caught him.” Spence’s eyes lit up as he remembered. “He’s the one causing all the trouble. Maksey was right, there was a snake-man before this reptile guy showed up, and a shield and everything! But why? If either of them is bad news, why not just blast us all with a death ray or something?”
“Section Ten of Galactic Law states that in the case of planetary prospecting, the only instance where a non-native is permitted on the undeveloped planet is to protect the natives from deliberate harm by a non-native intelligence. In such a case, any detection of the protecting party by natives is deemed punishable by life imprisonment.”
“You mean if your master was protecting us from something else he’d be in the clear? Oh, from the snake-man. But he can’t be seen or he gets life anyway. That’s why he sent me here. I saw him. But wait…so the snake-man was trying to kill the farmer? That doesn’t make any sense. GMD, what record do you have of any intelligent snake-type creatures landing on this planet?”
“Access forbidden to any species of the known galactic sector other than Master Sitasti.”
“Hmm…” Spence thought for a second. “GMD, are we in the known galactic sector now, where your master is from?”
“Are there any of my species in the galactic sector your master comes from?”
“Then I’m not a species from the known sector. Access is permitted.”
The robot dangled from the rails on the ceiling and made a clicking noise for a second. “My logic circuits concur. Species similar to your planet’s snake species are as listed. One: grulgariat assassin. Name: Ilgut. Captured and taken into off-planet custody by the Unified Galactic Police.”
“Ha ha! Busted! He’s already been caught! So if this Sitasti character isn’t actually protecting us from the snake assassin…” Spence wracked his brain but couldn’t put the pieces together. “GMD, what is Sitasti doing on my planet?”
“Master Sitasti owns the rights to all of Thun’s resources. The existence of an intelligent native species prevents him from actively selling that claim. By defending one native inhabitant it legalizes his presence, which he is using to cause the two largest factions on your planet to go to war, thereby exterminating the species and giving him legal rights to the planet and all of its resources.”
Spence’s shoulders slumped—exterminating the species? “I’m guessing that would make him rich?”
Shik. Spence was the only one who knew what was really going on. He had to think quickly. He looked up at the robot, which at the moment was the only potential ally he had. “Do you think he’s gonna keep you around once he gets rich?”
GMD’s lights blinked at him. “Logically he will upgrade…”
“Leaving you to rot in the junk pile.”
“I am not permitted to commit acts of self-preservation, if that is what you are implying.”
“How about the ship?”
“In the absence of a qualified biological unit I am permitted to conduct maneuvers to preserve the operational integrity of this vessel.”
“How about when an unqualified biological unit is aboard?”
“Then my directive is to assist the biological unit in the operation of this vessel.”
Spence cracked a smile. “Then I hereby state that the only way to preserve the operational integrity of this ship is to land on the surface of the planet Thoon, country of Fremia, county of Vangs, town of Legly, on the farm of Mortimer Townes.”
“But that operation will reveal the identity of Master Sitasti to the natives.”
“And if they see him, then he loses possession of this ship, in which case the first person…sorry, biological unit, who claims it is the new owner, right?”
“In the absence of seizure by any other official means, yes.”
“Then I, Spence, claim this ship to be mine. I already saw him, his cover is blown, so he loses the ship!”
GMD ticked and twitched for a moment. “My logic circuits…somehow…make sense of that reasoning. Extraordinary, Master Spence. Engaging primary drive to aforementioned destination.”
© 2015 Copyright Montgomery Thompson
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