You must login to vote
This is a short story I wrote many many years ago. I just dug it up out of my archives, and decided it was worth re-typing and posting. I don't think it's one of my best, and it was really going more for the laughs than for the storyline, but here it is... enjoy :)
The wind was picking up again - from the east as always. It was predictable: In half an hour or so it would reach hurricane strength, after which very few people would be inclined to stay out in it. Another fifteen minutes later, and it would be strong enough that anyone who had stayed out would be rather keen to get into shelter. And if they were insane enough to still be outside in it for much longer than that, then they would probably be staying out there permanently.
Hambot was inside, but he didn't appreciate it. In fact, he didn't appreciate this place at all. He had volunteered for space exploration on the understanding that it would be fun and exciting.
"Discover a new planet!" the blurb on the advert had said; "Discover new species!". To which had been added in thick red pen by one of the dentist's previous patients, "...and wipe them out!".
Hambot had cut the advert out and stuffed it into his pocket, finding the courage to actually reply only two weeks later. He should have got there quicker. He knew it. All the good planets had been discovered already, and now look at him lumbered with this ignominious lump of rock. Well, that was how it seemed to him as he went through his daily ritual of cowering in terror inside his storm shelter.
Sure, it had a breathable atmosphere, and sure it had indigenous life, but it wasn't as good as it sounded. For starters, the atmosphere wasn't quite the same as the sort he was used to. It smelt, and it smelt bad. It bore a closer resemblance to his socks than his armpits, bit the concotion resembled them both, on their very worst of days. The weather was also disgusting in the extreme, but despite all of this he had been refused an atmosphere processor because it was breathable. He would rather have had corrosive methane.
And then there was the local flora and fauna. Well, theoretically. It was more of a primaeval soup than anything else: harmless, unintelligent, and utterly useless. You could eat it (or more accurately, drink it), but only if you were prepared for a good long bout of something moderately nasty. It wasn't even scientifically interesting - the new and interesting chemicals it contained amounted to a sum total of zero (Hambot had counted them twice to be sure). It would appear that even the most basic life-forms had only just started to appear here. Or possibly, as Hambot found himself thinking whenever the air was particularly noxious, maybe all the other life forms had just died off from the smell.
So what else could one want from a newly discovered frontier? Minerals? Forget it. The whole planet probably contained less valuable mineral content than his own body. No gold, no diamonds, no silver, not even a commercially viable iron ore belt. The whole planet seemed to be constructed entirely of an assortment of mushy solids and putrid liquids.
So here he was, stuck with this completed dead loss. Named after himself. How is one supposed to attract colonists to a planet with that much going for it? Simple: he had lied. He had destroyed his mineral detection equipment, and told them he didn't know what the planet contained; he had imported a few interesting species that no-one had ever heard of, and called them indigenous, and he purchased an entire purfume company in a bid to freshen the air, in exchange for the mineral rights for half the southern hemisphere.
He now had several thriving colonies on the various continents, including a village full of perfume scientists. It didn't take his taxpayers long to find out the truth, but by that time they were as stuck there as he was. The federation only allowed people to make one planetary emigration in their lifetime. Apart from the enormous costs involved, the theory was that if everyone could move until they found the perfect place, there would be a handful of dangerously overcrowded planets, and the rest would be empty.
But instead of the lynching that Hambot was expecting, they let him off. They were stuch here, and they knew it, so they set about making the best of it. They imported as many species of trees as they could, hoping to clean the atmosphere naturally, and in the meanwhile they put up with it.
Today was the second anniversary of Hambot's discovery. He had been on this miserable planet for two years. It felt more like twenty. He looked out of the window aagin, and scowled at the weather.
He had been staring out through the glass for some time, when through the raging rain and debris of the storm he saw a set of flashing lights. It was, of course, totally impossible for someone to be outside, but yes, that light was definitely moving. The lights looked suspiciously like those of one of the six-wheeled 'Terrain Trotters' that most of the more sensible settlers had brought with them, and they was moving like one too. He hurried off to find his image enhancing binoculars, but by the time he returned the vehicle was close enough that he didn't need them. His first guess as to its identity proved correct, but the weather was definitely not suitable even for these rugged machines. He picked up an intercom unit to speak to the driver.
"Hello?" he said, "What are you doing?"
"Good morning," came a surprisingly cheerful, albeit static-laden reply, "It's Karrik, from down the road. It's important."
Down the road was quite a figurative way of meaning anywhere inside a fifty kilometer radius. There were no roads here yet, and unless the weather stopped watching everything away every single day, there wouldn't be for some time yet to come, hence the proliferation of off-road vehicles.
"What is it? Is it really that important?" asked Hambot, wishing Karrik could have answered the question the first time round. He knew the weather also destroyed any chance of having any sort of communications network, but surely it could have waited until the rain stopped.
"Do you really think I'd have come out in this weather if it wasn't?"
Hambot scowled at the machine through the window. It was that sort of smart-Alec remark that had made Karrik so unpopular in his previous home that he had come here, and although he could be perfectly likable when he wanted to be, he seemed to have a knack for coming out with exactly the wrong remark at exactly the wrong time.
"Fine," said Hambot, "Hold on a moment; I'll open the garage for you. Bay two." He could hardly turn him back in this weather.
The garages had been built to survive this sort of weather, as had all the buildings on the planet (or at least, all the ones that had survived their first week), but they weren't designed to resist being opened to the weather quite so readily, and although the vehicle was inside remarkably quickly, the ensuing flood took the floor pumps ten minutes to clear up after the door was shut.
As soon as the last of the water had drained, Karrik climbed down from the cab.
"Come inside," said Hambot, "have something to drink, and perhaps you can tell me what could possibly be so important."
They went into the main building, and while Hambot tried his best to act like a host, his guest began to explain.
"I think I've discovered an intelligent life form," said Karrik.
Hambot turned round, and looked at hime for a moment. "Here?" he asked eventually. "You're either joking, or you're mad." He paused and let out a slight grin, "Given the weather you just drove through, I'd say you're probably mad."
Karrik remained seated. "Don't get me wrong," he said, "I didn't say they were native to this planet."
The Federation's expansion through the galaxy had been rapid - the discovery of interplanetary travel had opened up the flood gates for mankind. The further you travelled the more it cost, but the time lag for the journey was negligible, meaning that anywhere within the universe was theoretically reachable, although in cost terms, the galaxy was the probably the limit for the time being. However, despite the thousands of planets that had been discovered, and the hundreds that had been colonised; despite the vast array of plant, animal and other life that had been found; and despite numerous false alarms and much speculation, not a single intelligent life form had been found. Karrik's suggestion that he had found beings that could actually get from one planet to another was, therefore, not merely unbelievable, but bordering on the bizarre.
* * *
"I think he saw us," said Lik'skaap. "But I tried to get us out of there before he could do anything."
"I'm not really worried about that," said his partner. "All I'm worried about is that we didn't get a chance to see if it's ready yet. Our customers will be waiting."
"We didn't get a chance to see what he was doing, either. These people have obviously arrived here recently; I didn't see them here last time we were here. Maybe they want to steal it?"
"That will never do. Our customers will be most upset."
* * *
"Are you sure it's not just one of the species we imported?" asked Hambot, "If you saw it through the rain..."
"No. The weather was better then - well, as good as it gets here, anyway - it only started like this a short while ago, while I was on my way here."
'Humour him', thought Hambot. "Very well then. Tell me about it," he said aloud.
"I went to my weather research station as usual. You know the one down by your first forest? Well, as I came close to the station, I could see something new there. It's hard to describe, but it was a kind of a rounded box shape on stilts. As I watched, I saw some strange creatures moving around the are, and that's when I turned on my recorder. Somehow or other, they must have realised I was there, because as soon as I turned it on, they ran towards their ship, got in, and took off."
Hambot looked singularly unimpressed. "I'll believe it - maybe - when you show me that recording."
"No problem. I had a feeling you would say something like that, so I brought it with me." He fished in his pockets, searching one after another, patting them to feel what was in them, until eventually he found what he was looking for and pulled the small recording disk from the depths of his pockets with a the sort of flourish and grin usually only practiced by stage magicians. "That's the trouble with these jackets," he said, "Very comfortable, but you do tend to lose things in them."
Hambot snatched the disk from his visitor and slotted into his player. "This should make interesting viewing." He found his remote control between the cushions on his seat, and pressed eject. He scowled, re-inserted the disk, and pressed play.
The quality of the recording was not good. It never was on this planet, but it seemed to be particularly bad this time. All the same, there could be no doubt about what it was showing. A commercial recording company might have been able to pull off a hoax like that, but Karrik? Here? It was impossible.
But that lead inevitable to the alternative. He mist be telling the truth. What then? It wasn't an entirely pleasant prospect. It would have been different if he had discovered a planet full of beings that had maybe got as far as working out hwo the wheel worked. At a push, even discovering a civilisation with electricity would have been a good thing, but any more than that and one would be forced to concede that perhaps these people were your equals. In fact, looking at the technology on show here, it was quite possible that there beings would consider themselves to be the superior species.
Then of course, there was the question of what they were doing here. Hambot could only theorise on that, but he didn't like any of the possibilities he thought of. What if they lived here, and no-one had noticed them? No, that was unlikely. On this evidence, they would have shown themselves much sooner if that was the case. Then perhaps they were also on the colonisation trail? That would put them into direct competition with the Federation. Not a pleasant thought. Worst of all, they could be here specifically to study the people here. He didn't like the thought of that at all.
Hambot spent the next few days with Karrik scouting out the weather station for any more sightings, but without any success. He had already been here two years, of course. so if they had only spotted this now, there was no telling how long they'd have to wait to see anything again.
But a week later, two days after he and Karrik had finally called it off, he got another visitor.
"So," he said, "You've seen a bunch of aliens?"
"Yes - down by the main factory." Ralph, his latest visitor, was one of the perfume scientists.
"Were you able to see what theye were doing?"
"Yes. They were poking long metal probes into the ground, and eating little chunks of the soil from them."
Hambot frowned. "Eating the soil?" he asked incredulously, "How gross!"
* * *
"How gross!" exclaimed Lik'skaap once the ship was back in orbit, "We leave our soup to cook for just a couple of million years, and what do we find when we come back? Someone's polluting it with perfume and planting trees all over it."
"Well, it still tasted all right."
"That's not the point," said Lik'skaap, "Not only do they drain off some of the best parts of soup, they even started building things and planting things in it. And if that factory they've built keeps on polluting the atmosphere, then we'll really be in the soup with our customers."
"But I said it tasted all right. The customers will never know the difference. These people have even hamed it Planet Hambot; we could do a special on 'Creme de la Hambot'..."
"Ha! I can picture it now: 'Waiter, waiter, there's a human in my soup!'"
"Well, they're an intelligent species. We can't declare war on them unless they steal it or somethng - we'll need them as customers in a few millenia - what else can we do?"
"Fine. I'll tell you what. We'll just fix up the basics, make it fit for consumption, and we'll try to communicate with them to apologise. Is that all right?"
* * *
No-one expected the aliens - who until then had seemed pretty peaceful (albeit somewhat odd) -to destroy not only the perfume factory, but every last tree on the planet. Nor could anyone work out what the note daid that was found pinned to Hamot's front door the next morning.
All Hamobt cared about was that he had suddenly lost every hope he had had of ever breathing fresh air again. He became depressed, and the more he thought about it, the more depressed he became. Every few weeks it became customary for someone to report seeing the aliens, usually doing the same as they had been doing the first time - eating small chunks of soil - but other than that, hambot guessed (astutely, but as it turned out, wrongly) that life would continue pretty much the same as it always had, with just an ever more rotten smell in the air, and occasional visits from the mad alien mud-suckers to keep him occupied.
* * *
"Guess what?" Lik'skaap's partner challenged him.
"I give up, what is it?"
"I think I've worked out the basics of these humans' language. Now we can invite them..."
"Forget it! Not a chance, after what they did to my soup!"
"If we can treat their leader to an 'evening out', as I think they call it, we could persuade them to leave our soup alone."
"Now you're talking," said Lik'skaap, immediately perking up at the thought of getting his soup back. "Maybe you're right. Tomorrow after we've sampled the soup, you can talk to him."
* * *
Hambot, like most of the rest of his population, had seen plenty of the aliens, so when they landed their ship almost on top of him, he wasn't as suprised as he might have been. And when they climbed out and started poking around in the ground and eating it, he was similarly nonplussed.
What almost knocked him down with shock, however, was when the shorter of the two turned towards him, still holding his shovel, and still chewing on a lump of dirt.
"Excuse me," said the alien (at which point Hambot did sit down rather heavily in the mud), "We're from the GalactaCafe corporation, and we'd like to invite you to supper." He continued chewing his mud thoughtfully while he waited for an answer.
Hambot's eyes grew wider than the alien thought was possible for his species, as a picture filled his mind of himself eating something along the lines of 'a large slice of swamp burger in a tangy slime sauce with double fries' in an intergalactic fast-food joint. He was suddenly violently ill.
"Ugh, how gross." said Hambot.
"Hey," said the alien, immediately poking his shovel into the fresh splat right under Hambot's nose, and putting a small piece into his mouth, "You never told me you knew how to make such good soup!"
Spudley Strikes Again