But Owl had gone to sleep
| The surviving aliens had no intention of dying in space. They had sent a report over their transom to their home world and then flew to a spot on the planet’s surface away from any settlements. There were about a hundred and fifty ships that had survived, and each ship had a compliment of twelve regular crew. All total, including various extra personnel, there were a little more than eighteen hundred and fifty aliens, and they were not in a good mood. They made a semi-permanent encampment and hunkered down to wait for reinforcements.
They were mammalian on a basic level. They walked upright and were covered all over with a short, varied colored fur. They had two primary arms with three fingers on each hand, two primary legs with feet, and long prehensile double tails which could do duty as extra arms, legs or hands as needed. They used a quick, clipped whistle speech that sometime ranged up or down beyond human hearing capabilities. They were highly emotional on a selfish level and only cooperated for the basest of reasons. Military discipline was difficult at best.
They called themselves the “Sweet,” although they were anything but. It was just their pronunciation in their whistling dialect. The highest ranking Sweet was a small but extremely vicious individual named Wheatwheat. He was the commander of the fleet that had bombed the far side of TUUchiii. His lieutenant and closest ally was Whordal. He, too, was vicious and loyal to none but his friend. Together they kept the camp in something resembling a disciplined military unit. “I want to know what happened on the Sardell!” Wheatwheat snarled angrily. “Why would they attack each other without cause? Bring me the two highest ranking officers that survived the disaster!”
Whordal answered “Right away, Wheat.” The being snapped his tail, turned and hustled out the door of Wheatwheat’s ship.
The commander sat back down and was soon lost in thought. He began planning for the revenge of the Sweet. The orders from home world were merely genocide, for the Sweet wanted the Phili planet. There were things deep in the crust that they demanded, and they wanted no witnesses. They were already on the verge of expulsion from the council that ruled the civilized worlds of this arm of the galaxy. And that would be bad. Very bad. Even though the Phili weren’t a space faring race, the member races of the council kept close watch on them. It was well known what was hidden in the depths of the planet’s mantle. But the artifacts had been decreed sacrosanct by law, and any attempt to retrieve them was mandatory death.. By that same law, the . . . things belonged to the Phili, even if they didn’t know what they had. And he was convinced that the vermin aliens had something to do with the fiasco above.
They would have their genocide, but he would have his revenge.
There was a loud knock at his door. He looked up from the papers and said “Come.” Whordal entered followed by two young Sweet. They looked like they would rather be anywhere but there. They approached to within five feet of the commander and came to rigid attention. Whordal sat behind them in a chair by the door. He was grinning at what he believed was coming. Wheatwheat smiled and said, “Gentlemen, please be at ease.” They came unfrozen, but they didn’t look anything like at ease. They stared straight ahead. “Could you enlighten me as to what became of the Sardell? When I came back from my mission on the other side of the planet, it seemed to be in a bit of . . . shall we say, distress?” It actually was in small and large pieces, scattered to the solar winds, or it would have been if there was a star to provide them. He was still smiling warmly.
Neither of them spoke. Whordal snapped from behind them, “Answer the goddamned question!”
“Easy now, Major. We’re all in the same outfit, aren’t we? I just want to try to understand what happened so we can try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. What do you say, Fellows?” He reached into a drawer in his desk and pulled three glasses and a bottle from its depths. He poured an inch of oily purple into all three and stood up, holding one. “Join me, won’t you? It will ease the tension in here.” Whordal chortled. “Be nice, Dahlly. I really do want to hear what these gentlemen have to say.” He reached back and picked up one of the glasses on the desk and handed it to the pilot nearest to him. “What is your name, Lieutenant?”
“Wheepee, Sir,” he said as he hesitantly took the drink.
“Wheepee,” Wheatwheat said, rolling the name around on his tongue as if to glean information from it. He reached back again and picked up the remaining glass. “And yours, Captain?” he asked sweetly as he handed him the drink.
“S-sworl, Sir,” he stammered and reached for the proffered glass. He wrapped his hand around it and tried to take it, but Wheatwheat held it firm.
He locked eyes with the Captain and chided, “Is that S-sworl or Sworl, Pilot?”
“Sworl, Sir!” He looked as if he was about to faint. Wheatwheat released the glass and let Sworl take it. “To the Sardell.” He threw his drink back and threw the glass into the corner across the room. It shattered with an exaggerated crash and the glass fell in a neat pile.
“Sardell,” they said in chorus, and then they hesitated, looking at the commander.
“Throw it, Pilots!” he barked. They threw. Much to their amazement, their broken glass also ended up in a neat pile right on top of his. They didn’t know that he used metal laced glass with a magnet in the corner. He rarely missed a trick when it came to the con. It was minor, but it added to the atmosphere of the unique. “Ok, who first? How about you, Captain Sworl?”
“Sir!” the Captain began. And he told everything that he had witnessed and everything that the scuttlebutt that was running rampant throughout the camp claimed. The rumors included Boojams and haints. “Everyone is wonderin’ what else could have made the ships bang into each other in the first place. After all, Sir, we was at stand down.” Stand down meant that none of the ships’ drives were powered up.
Wheatwheat took it all in without saying anything at all. When the Captain wound down and trailed off in his confusion about the incident, he turned his gaze on Wheepee. “Lieutenant, do you have anything to add?”
Wheepee was silent at first, and then he said, nearly under his breath, “There was another ship.”
The commander’s expression never changed, but his heart took a bounce and gave a kick to his adrenals. “Would you please repeat that, only a bit louder?”
Wheepee looked right at Wheatwheat and said loudly, “There was another ship in the hanger, Sir! I saw it, but I didn’t know what I was seeing. It was so small it could have been a storage crate. But I saw it move and then change directions. I was about to call in a report when the ruckus started.”
“You were about to call it in . . .” He trailed off and looked away, thoughts racing. “That will be all,” he said absently. And then his eyes grabbed them and held them. “You will say nothing of any other ship to anyone! Is that understood?”
“Yessir!” Sworl rapped out.
“But,” Wheepee began.
"Tell anyone who you might already have told that you’ve thought about it, and you were mistaken! Dismissed!” He released their gaze and waited for them to leave.
“Aw, crap, Wheat,” Whordal complained when they'd gone, “I thought you was gonna let ‘em have it.”
“Never you mind them, my dear friend Dahlly. They are of no consequence. There is something else of much greater concern than two errant pilots.” He began to stroke the back of his neck with one of his tails. Greater indeed.
The two pilots walked quickly and didn’t speak until they reached their section of the camp. Then they slowed their pace “I thought we had bought the big one that time, Wheep. Yeah, I thought we was dead meat for sure.”
“Yeah,” Wheep said dully.
“That broken glass pile was one of the weirdest things I, personally, ever seen! And what was that crap about another ship? Man, you saved our arses with that tall tale.”
“Sure, Sworl, I was saving our butts.”
They came to Sworl’s cylinder ship first. It was named Singer. The Captain looked at the other pilot and said, “Thanks again, Wheep. I’ll see ya later.”
Wheepee said in a firm tone, “Remember, Sworl, no stories about my saving our butts with tales of other ships. Especially no other ships!”
Sworl looked at him strangely, and said in parting, “Whatever you say. I owe you big.” And he headed for the door of his ship.
Lieutenant Wheepee trudged slowly the rest of the way to his ship, Horde of Locusts. He was thinking about that other ship. He knew that the Phili were not a space going race. They just weren’t technologically oriented. So where did it come from? He was positive that he had seen it, and that it was a ship. Hell, who would dare to go into space in a little box like that in the first place?
He reached his ship and went inside. He could hear the rest of the crew yukking it up in the main room. He didn’t feel much like being social, so he turned down the corridor to his quarters. He was wondering who in the crew he could trust. Finally, he came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter at all who he told or how much solid information he could actually get. He was in no position to do anything about it anyway. With that thought in mind, he drifted of into a troubled sleep.
Sworl was ready to party. He felt that he had narrowly beaten death tonight, and he wanted to celebrate his victory. He was hoping there was a game of Crud going on. If his luck continued, he could stand to win a good deal of money. His luck seemed to be on, because as soon as he entered the ship, he heard the whoops and tweets that usually went with the gambling game. Ah, he could just see it now: Lady Luck stuffing money in his pockets while sitting on his knee. He stood by the door to the main room, and it was even better than he could possibly have hoped for. It was the Singer’s night on rotation for one or two of the females. How could he have forgotten that!?
The crowd of nine crew and two females greeted him merrily as he came in. Someone shoved a drink in his hand, and he dug into his pocket and pulled his money wad out. It was going to be a great night indeed!
He was betting heavy and winning big. And he was drinking hard. Too hard. On one turn of the game, he lost a particularly heavy pot, and he slurred, “I ain’t worried about it. I have the Commander’s ear. Tha’s better than winnin’ two month’s pay.”
“The Commander’s ear, is it?” That passed through the crowd as he won the next pot.
One of the crew, a big mug with one of his tails missing, and who was nearly as drunk as Sworl, said, “What could you possibly know that Wheatwheat would want to know?”
Murmurs of agreement went around the room. One of the females was getting antsy. She was flicking both tails in opposite directions and rubbing her back against the wall. A crewman grabbed one of her tails and gave it a yank. She let out a screech. That brought guffaws all around the room too.
“Well, I’ll tell ya, Moomoo, he wanted to know what I knew about the fall of the Sardell.”
“And what the hell do you know that we don’t? We were right there with you in this very ship!” Moomoo said.
“Well, I’ll tell ya.” Sworl fell out of his chair onto his arse. The crowd erupted into hoots and whistles. “Come on now. Can you give a fellow crewman a hand up?”
Someone helped him back into his chair, and he reached for the playing stones. Moomoo put his big hand over Sworl’s and said, “So what about it, Sworly? What do you know that we don’t?”
The room had grown quiet except for the sounds of the females whistling quietly and enticingly. Sworl looked around and tried to focus his eyes. He had no success, so he closed them. “Well, I’ll tell ya,” he began again, “Me and Wheepee, from over there at the Horde was called to Wheatwheat’s ship by that slimy toady of his, Major Whordal. I thought we was dead. But no! The Commander goes and pulls out a bottle of Erlemain and pours us drinks all around. We threw back a shot for the Sardell, and we all smash our glasses in the corner. And the damnedest thing, the smashed glasses all fell into a nice, neat little pile in the corner.”
“Come on, Sworly, get on with it. And cut the fairy tales.” More guffaws around the room.
“I swear it on the Singer!” Sworl slurred and nearly fell off his chair again.
Well now. That was a different story. Anything sworn to on their ship was considered indisputable truth. They all settled down again and listened.
“He asks me what I know about all of that crap that happened in the hanger. Well, I tell him everything that I saw from my seat at the controls. I tell him that it couldn’t have been an accident because we was all at stand down. He’s realllly interested in all of that. But when I tell him about the intruder’s ship . . . .” Sworl looked up suddenly. He realized that he had let the peequee out of the box.
The room erupted into a cacophony, and someone grabbed Sworl by the front of his shirt. He worked hard to focus and saw that it was Limm, his second mate. “There wasn’t no other ship, Sworl,” he said. “It was the boojams and we all know it.”
Murmurs of “yeah”, and damned right” swirled around the room.
Sworl suddenly felt that his life was in danger for the second time that day. “It was Wheepee that told the Commander that he saw another ship,” he whined. “He said he saw it creeping around at the back of the hanger just before everything went to Hell.”
Limm released his hold on the Captain, and Sworl fell out of his chair again. This time nobody helped him back up.
“That suck up, Wheepee. He’s just trying to get in with the Commander. The Boojams did it all, and if you deny them they’ll come for you too!”
“I ain’t denyin’ ‘em!” Sworl yelped. “You know I seen ‘em! We all seen ‘em on the Allani operation. They came for poor old Tweetle, an’ he was my best friend!”
Boojams were a nasty, semi-sentient airborne life form that they had inadvertently picked up during a raid on a planet six months ago. They were minute, colony based social creatures that fed on carbon dioxide and other gases and left behind a foul smelling odor. The ships had become infested with the little beasts, and had nearly brought down the entire fleet. The Sweet were ferociously superstitious, and the Boojam colonies appeared as ghosts to most of the crew. They believed that the spirits would suck the life out of anyone that denied their existence. Sworl’s second mate, Tweetle, had died of fright when he woke up and a colony of Boojams was floating a foot above him, feeding on his exhalations. Just the night before, he had been saying during a particularly drunken game of Crud that there “weren’t no such things as haints.” The crew naturally knew that the Boojams had come for him. This same scenario had happened numerous times throughout the fleet and had become de facto fact. Of course, only a couple of the crew that died had said anything at all about spooks or spirits, but that had no bearing on “facts.” They had been blamed for everything from an increase in the accident rate to bad luck at Crud. “I got the Boojams watchin’ me” was the saying when a crewman was losing heavily.
The enthusiasm had gone out of the game. They started breaking up into smaller groups. Even the females seemed subdued.
Limm and Moomoo dragged Sworl off to his quarters to have more conversation. He had passed out on the way, so when they threw him on the bed and slapped his face, he was oblivious. “Get some water,” Limm growled at Moomoo.
Moomoo filled the washing basin and brought it into the room. He threw it, basin and all, on Sworl’s face. The basin smacked him in the forehead just as his eyes opened in astonishment. They closed back right after the crack on his skull, and he was out like a broken radio. “Ya killed ‘em!” Limm yelled.
Moomoo reached over and felt for a pulse. “Naw, he’s sleepin’ like female.”
“We gotta do somethin’ about Wheepee. He’s gonna bring them haints down on us again.” Limm didn’t look very happy at the thought of that. Moomoo didn’t either.
“You gonna snuff ‘em? It’ll be deep space for us if we get caught.”
“We ain’t gonna get caught, Moosey. We’re gonna let Sworl here do the deed.”
A nasty grin came over Moomoo’s feature’s.
Commander Wheatwheat was in the transom room of his ship, Boom Fangor which, in the Sweet tongue meant Planet Assassin. It was a guttural word for the normally fluid language.
He was happy. The home world had just sent word that they were sending three Dreadnought class ships with a compliment of five thousand ground troops and four hundred Needle class ships within each one. The Needle ships were what Charlie had thought of as “Pipe bombs.” The strike force would arrive in four days.
Emperor Sonora was demanding a quick, neat, and stealthy operation. The plan was to swoop in with the asteroid-throwing Needles and wipe out every last town on the face of the planet, and then send in the shock troops to eliminate any surviving Phili and all larger forms of animal life. It was supposed to have been accomplished with the minimal force that had been originally sent, until the fiasco. Now they were under a lot of pressure because there was a covert Council inspection scheduled that intelligence had only just found out about.
He was now the advance strike force. His orders were to begin a reconnaissance sweep to assess the damage that his Needlers had done with their payloads on the first run. They were using the asteroids as their primary bombs because the strikes would look more like a random disaster and would be untraceable back to Solean, the home world. It was a real pisser that TUUchiii was so far from everywhere that there were actually no asteroids or even the vestiges of an asteroid belt anywhere near. But all they needed was plausible deniability.
He did some quick figuring in his head. Then he smiled. Better than thirty thousand troops should be more than plenty to wipe out a simple race that didn’t even have ground vehicles. Although he had a feeling that there was something that he just couldn’t wrap his tails around, or something that he wasn’t taking into account. The only solid intelligence that they had on the little buggers had come from long range scans. They hadn't wanted to set foot on the planet until they were ready to move because quite frankly, even the Emperor didn’t have the balls to buck the Council outright. Knowledge of the artifacts had only come to light within the past year, and plans to obtain them had begun shortly after.
The artifacts had been discovered quite by accident during a scientific geological survey of the planet commissioned by the GSC, the Galactic Scientific Combine, a benign group of scientists and science gatherers from within the governed galactic community. The artifacts were of unknown origin, but presumed to be left by the civilization that had lived on TUUchiii before it had been ejected from the galaxy. In fact, TUUchiii was a scientific anomaly in itself. There had never been a recorded case of a rogue planet that sustained indigent life in recorded history.
The artifacts were also known to be manufactured equipment of some sort. They were found by a third order ground penetrating radar scan during the survey. It was determined that there was an extensive vault of some sort under one of the ancient extinct peaquas, which is what the volcanoes actually were. TUUchiii’s mantle floated on a vast ocean of water that was superheated by magma restrained only by a thin, secondary mantle just below the ocean. The peaquas were giant steam vents.
Wheatwheat didn’t care about any of that. Intelligence said, and the emperor believed, that the artifacts were ancient weapons and other wondrous technology. And that was good enough for the commander. The Sweet had long been looking for something that would give them an edge so that they could throw off the yoke of the Council.
So Commander Wheatwheat could do nothing for now but gather information. He would be ready. Oh, yes. He would be ready.
|Translate this page!|
|Select and copy the text you want, and then click this link and paste the text into the box to translate it into English<->French, English<->German, English<->Portuguese, English<->Russian, English<->Spanish, French<->Russian, German<->Russian, Italian<->Russian, Spanish<->Russian, Spanish<->Russian languages|