Warped: Nine – Bug Bomb
by Andrea Speed
Nine – Bug Bomb
First contact situations were always tricky things. But they got infinitely trickier when the alien you were meeting seemed to think they had met you before … and didn’t like you.
Vani felt she had an advantage over everyone here, since she had worked in the MoSys bureaucracy for ten years, and knew the first contact protocols. Only there were several problems: she was never a member of the Diplomatic Corps, so the finer details of it all were lost on her; her Negotiator was a half-sane drug addict, and about as stable as a shuttle with a single working thruster; this race claimed to have met them before and hate them, which was never covered in any of the Protocols she saw; and there was the problem that she worked in the Revenue Distribution Department for all of her ten years. If this was a tax or tariff dispute, she’d know what to do without thinking about it. This was a more difficult shell to crack.
Not everything translated, so she assumed the things that didn’t were proper names. The big bug was apparently Skr’Takk of the Tk’Tk’Skree, a race native to a planet known as Skree’Tk – that is, if she was hearing her right. And since she had better hearing than any of these Humans or Kvec, she assumed she was getting her right. The ruler of the Tk’Tk’Skree was Skr’Takk’s sister, Queen Kr‘Tk‘Re (all these hard, clicking syllables were making her eardrums hurt). Skr’Takk felt Kr’Tk’Re had become corrupt, and entered a devil’s bargain with the “meatbags” over the spoils of the Slk’Vakkt war. (Now her head was hurting.)
They’d never heard of the Slk’Vakkt war, and told her so. Skr’Takk was finding this hard to believe, but their idiocy was starting to shine through her stubbornness. The war was between the Tk’Tk’Skree and the Slk’Vakkt, and the Slk’Vakkt lost, so the Tk’Tk’Skree acquired a great deal of their territory. The only thing was, the war was more costly than the people realized, and as such, Kr’Tk’Re decided to sell off some of the Slk’Vakkt territory to the meatbags in exchange for hard currency. This was all done in secret, of course, as the Tk’Tk’Skree were apparently not the most alien friendly race, and Skr’Takk violently objected to this, fearing it was the beginning of the meatbag incursion into their queendom. She was right. And to cut off what she felt was a potential insurrection, she tossed Skr’Takk, her followers, and some hive representatives she felt might not take the shipping off of opposition to prison in the right spirit of the thing into this death trap.
Hive Queen Kr’Tk’Re’s dealing with the meatbags were still secret, as Skr’Takk was sure the people would revolt if they knew their monarch was treating meatbags as equals. But there was no communication equipment here, and the last time they had a visitor, the supply ship had some meatbags who killed most of the other inmates with some new kind of weapon. Skr’Takk assumed that her sister okayed them for using the royal prisoners as target practice.
“But why not kill you outright?” Gen asked, the rack gun still trained on Skr’Takk. “No offense.” From the way her knuckles were almost white on the grip of the gun, Vani assumed she was afraid of bugs. Or at least very big ones.
Skr’s antennae wavered in a way that Vani took to be menacing. There was a rhyme and reason to them, much like hand gestures, but she was sure she’d need to study them for a while before getting all the nuances. “You are apes. You’d kill your own female family?”
Khal scoffed, but it was breathless and weak. “It’s better that she lets people use you as target practice?”
Skr’s antennae wiggled in his direction, but if she was reading them right, she was more confused than anything. “She isn’t doing the killing. Someone else is.”
Okay, this was clearly a cultural distinction. There was no point in discussing it further, not until they had some cultural touchstones for the Tk’Tk’Skree. But the deliberate singling out of “female” was interesting.
They moved on to the “weapon”, which Skr insisted was only experimental, although its initial testing helped end the Slk’Vakkt war. Whatever the name of the weapon in their native language, Skr’s translator interpreted the name of the weapon as “the ender”, which was succinct – you had to give it that.
Skr confirmed it could open micro-singularities in specifically targeted areas, and was a type of weapon you couldn’t have shields or fields against. But there was a fundamental problem with it, in that its power source could be fundamentally, fatally unstable. Its power source? Another micro-singularity. That made an elliptical kind of sense.
“You can pull power from a singularity?” Gen replied, sounding slightly impressed. “No wonder MoSys wanted to do business with you. That’s the Holy Grail of energy sources.”
Her antennae wavered once more, reflecting even more confusion. “Holy Grail?”
“It’s an ape myth thing,” Khal said dismissively. “A cup or object or pair of underpants. I didn’t really pay that much attention to the history download.”
“Underpants?” Skr repeated, antennae sagging under the weight of the unknowable.
“Another ape thhing,” Vani told her. “Iff thhis weapon iss ssso unstable, why did you develop it?”
Skr made a noise that sounded like metal scraping against concrete; it was most likely a scoff or a laugh. “I didn’t develop it. I’m military, not scientific; I don’t think, I shoot.”
The odd thing was, that was a universal statement, not bound by any species. “Sso whhy would your ssisster create a sship with it?”
Again that noise, something sharp scraping against something hard. “Because she can? Why the drone sac don’t you ask her?”
Drone sac? Perhaps that was a curse among her kind. Did drones actually exist amongst her kind, or was that simply a slur?
“We would if we knew where she lived,” Gen snapped, still not easing up on the gun. But it couldn’t have bothered Skr at all, as she just ignored it.
Her antennae wavered and then drooped, as in defeat. But she didn’t think that’s what it was. “Get me out of this stinking death trap and I’ll show you where she is.”
Now there was an odd idea.
They pulled back to the edge of the airlock to discuss it, but even as the group hotly debated the possibilities of letting a potentially homicidal bug on board, Vani didn’t listen. The real discussion – the final discussion – was actually taking place in the cranial link she had with Dar.
*We know nothing of this species* Vani sent across the link, watching the others argue. Gen looked dead set against it, and Khal looked slightly dyspeptic, as if all the bad feelings was going to make him physically ill. He kept rubbing his left temple as well, and Kvec was the only one who noticed that (he – it – but a supporting hand on his shoulder) .*Everything she told us could be a lie*
*True* Dar agreed *She could just want out of here. But it is curious she’d be here alone, and there are signs that a fight took place, and not one just involving acid*
Vani nodded her head, and Dar could see it since she had a visual link as well. *There’s causal evidence to support some of her story*
Khal waved his hands at her, and she looked at him as he scowled. “So are you going to let us in on your conversation?” They all knew that she had an interlink connection with Dar, but Khal knew it better than anyone since he could feel the small emotional shifts of a discussion.
Dar gave her blessing on that, so Vani told him, “Sshe thhinkss we sshould take her on.”
Gen rolled her eyes and snapped, “Well of course she does. We’re all victims of her goddamned curiosity!”
“If even half of what sshe ssayss iss true, sshe would be invaluable to have on board.”
“As blackmail or a weapon?” Gen asked, with a surprising amount of bitterness. “What if she’s lying and she goes psycho? She spits acid, if you haven’t noticed.”
“I’m sure Kvec could handle it,” Khal offered, gesturing to the Cryer. He attempted a nod, and then mimed grabbing Skr by her head and yanking her skull off.
“What the hell happened to knocking her out?” Khal wondered, slightly aghast.
Gen was still dead set against it, but she was outnumbered, so it was decided to go ahead and talk to Skr about taking her on a provisional basis. First of all, they had to establish whether she could take their gravity or not, since it was pretty light here.
The Tk’Tk’Skree came from a very light gravity world, and as such, anyone going into space or traveling off world had to have something called a “gravity harness” grafted to their central nervous system so heavier gravity didn’t kill them. (That was what the metal thing on her back was.) Gravity variations didn’t matter to her anymore; the harness could handle it.
She agreed to tell them what she knew about her Queen and her possible deal with MoSys, in exchange for passage back to Skree’Tk held territory. The fact that they didn’t know where Skree’Tk territorial space was was seen only as a minor flaw in the plan.
Khal was roped into giving her the “minor” tour of the ship – minor meant all sensitive areas of the ship, such as the core, were avoided – and the fact that Skr asked if this was a warship was troublesome. She really wanted it to be a warship.
As she rode with a sulking Gen in the lift, she reached out to Dar. *She could be trouble*
*I know. She might want to use us to attack her sister*
*Amongst other things. Tell Gen to watch her carefully. Having something to do should keep her busy as well*
She told her, and while Gen hated it, and bitched about having to do the “dirty work”, secretly she was quite pleased that her suspicions about the insectoid were not being disregarded. Khal was better at dissecting the nuances and picking up the weaker intentions, but there were some things that Vani could simply taste. (Smug, bitter triumph was like sour milk.)
She was glad to be alone for a moment, though, if only to ponder the rather large logic flaw of MoSys not admitting, even privately, contacting a race such as the Tk’Tk’Skree. If the Tk’Tk’Skree were as xenophobic as Skr seemed to indicate, that would explain why the Queen wouldn’t admit any contact with MoSys, but why would MoSys not mention them? It didn’t make sense. MoSys liked to acquire new people, new systems, new revenue streams; it was what they were built for. While they thought they were inherently superior to all aliens, they felt magnanimous in allowing them into their collective. And with the Tk’Tk’Skree being xenophobic and isolationist, it was unlikely any of their people would discover a connection to MoSys, even if they put out a big hovering morpho-lightboard announcing it in orbit around most populated planets.
So why would MoSys make contact with this race, and then keep it quiet? It didn’t make sense. Especially considering the advanced technologies the insectoids seemed to possess. Was that part of the “deal” they made with them, never to mention them in any way, shape, or form?
She had reached her quarters when Dar popped back up in her head. *You may want to check out the current visual feed*
Experience had taught her that was never a good thing for Dar to say. *What’s going on?*
*On the edge of viable sensor range, a ship has popped up, coming this way*
*A ship? Can you be more specific?* As she entered her quarters, she turned on the visual feed with a thought, the impulse riding down her neural link. It showed sensor distorted space, a wavering background of black and infrared, jerking and sputtering like a fire going out. There might have been a distant spot of light at the edge of the horizon, something too bright to be a star, but it was impossible to say without clearer resolution.
*Barely. It looks bug shaped, but smaller than the singularity ship*
Vani felt her stomach sink, turn cold. This just wasn’t their day, was it? *Skr’Takk’s people?*
*A solid guess. Perhaps it’s a supply ship.*
*Or we did set off an alarm we didn’t know about. Do they have weapons?*
*This is a sensor dead zone, Van. Your guess is as good as mine. But if they’re as war like as Skr’Takk has indicated, we’d be fools to assume they have no ships ready for a fight*
Vani felt she simply had to ask the question they were dancing around. *Could they have a singularity weapon?*
There was a very long silence, one that only meant Dar was weighing the odds. *If they do, at least it will be a quick death*
At least Dar was looking on the bright side.