DescriptionAn intergalactic animal rights parable.
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1. Elliot Grimes backed his cart up to the edge of the disposal chute and pressed the the big green button on the dash board. The tray at the back tilted upwards, sending a ton and a half of animal faeces sliding into the darkness. Because there was no lip or cross bar to prevent the cart from going over the edge, this was an opperation that required some attention. He had made a mark on the wall - strictly against company policy – with which he could line it up with the front of the vehicle; but he still had to be carefull because there was only an eighteen inch margin for error. Thanks to recent developments in composting, there was no foul odour comming up from the dark depths, but still, the idea of going over the edge was more than he could contemplate. It was the end of the night cycle, and as he drove back towards the keepers mess he caught sight of the odd furry face, or tail moving in the semi darkness. Night was a good time to clean out the cages that were his responsibility, because the creatures were quiet. None of them were dangerous, all the nasty ones were on the upper levels, but they were intelligent, and would pull out his pens and mess with his communicator. As he drove along a voice jumped out of the speaker. 'Elliot, I need you to tear yourself away from your little fury friends and get your arse up to level 34. I've got a situation with one of the carnivorous trees'. It was Elliots emediate boss, Second Liutenant Carlson Kroll. 'Be right there boss, Ive just got to check on the Sirius Monkeys, they’ve been a bit skittish lately.’ said Elliot. 'You can read them a bed time story on your own time, I need you here now,’ said Kroll. 'Yawohl,' said Elliot. 'Now smart arse,' said Kroll and broke the connection. Kroll was an officer; a company man for Barnum and Sons New Animal Supplies who knew the value of a live animal at the alien livestock markets on Earth. Their happiness wasn’t his concern. Elliot stopped and dismounted the vehicle. Through the soles of his boots he could feel a gentle vibration, meaning that the ship was accelerating for the next leg of it's long journey. Small amounts of plasma particles were spewing from the ships motors at near light speed, providing a gentle but persistent push that would see them at their destination in nine months. He lit a cigarette end he’d scavanged from the mess, and ate the last of his non specific meat sandwich. Krolls bullying notwithstanding, he wasn't going to hurry. He finished eating and rode the service elevator to 34 where he found Kroll standing infront of one of hte cages with a finger in each ear. Inside the cage there was a man sized shrub emitting deafening shrieks and standing on top of an identical one lying on the ground. Protruding from under the skirting of its foliage, there were five or six long root like fingers that disappeared into the greenery of the vanqished enemy. As Elliot watched, the victim tried to struggled out from under, and every time it did, the dominant one just shifted its position and skreeched more loudly. 'Where the hell you been? This dam walking Chrismas Bush is about to kill its buddy and eat into the company profits,' said Kroll. 2. 'Don't worry, its perfectly normal behavior. Siblings allways fight. You should read the bio,' said Elliot as he approached his superior. 'I don't care why they're fighting, just seperate them or I'll use a shock stick,' said Kroll. ‘That won’t be neseccary,’ said Elliot. He removed a can of anisthetic spray from his shoulder bag and stepped into the cage. He knew from his studies that these ones didn't eat any thing larger than a rat, indeed that was what they were feed; so he could approached to with in a few feet and directed a stream of aerosol into the centre of the plant. After a few seconds, it sagged slightly and fell over. Eliot tied a rope around one of it's feet and dragged it into the corridor. 'Read the bio,' he said. Kroll scowled but said nothing. In 1875, in the United States, one P. T. Barnum was persuaded by two men to lend his name and financial backing to an existing circus which became the ‘P.T. Barnum's Great Travelling Museum, Caravan, and Hippodrome'. The moniker 'The Greatest show on Earth was added later. At that time, there was one other big circus operating; Cooper and Bailey Circus, established in 1860, but the decision was taken to combine the two shows, and in 1880 the 'Barnum and Bailey Circus' was born. In 1906 Barnum Bailey died and the show was sold to the Ring Brothers, thus becoming the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. The circus went through several changes of managment and fortune over the next century and a half, including the great depression and a fire which killed a 150 people in 1944. With the animal rights movements of the late twentieth century, the day of the great animal acts were comming to an end, and by the middle of the twenty first centuty had completely disapeared. But then came the great break through of interstellar flight, the discovery of other civilizations and the discovery that they, like us, would do anything for a buck. With the opening up of unregulated trade to new worlds, and the multitude of new species that lived on them, a decendent of P. T. Barnum, C. W. Barnum, saw his opportunity. C. W. was a shareholder, and worked as a minor administrator in the show that his great, great, great, great, grand fathers lent his money, and his name to. It was now called 'United Performers' and had a finger in a lot of pies in the entertainment world. But C.W. was not content where he was. He knew about his illustrious ancestor, and dreamed of about the glory days of the animal act. The lions and elephants snached from the wilds and bent to the will of the animal tamers. That was a real job, risking your life to bring a taste of the dangerous and exotic from far away worlds to the adoring, awe struck masses. To visit virgin lands and rape them for their strange beauty. And so at the first opportunity, he bought himself a small freighter with worm hole capability, and headed for the stars. Having a good compass for business but no moral one, he prospered quickly. He tried to go down the path of the great white hunters of 200 years ago, but found that the dangers of dealing with unknown alien biology out weighed the potential profits. On the first expedition, half his crew were wiped out after they captured a large harmless looking herbivor. What he didn't know was that the first stage of the creatures life cycle was as a small winged creature which crawled into any orofice of the host and started controling its thoughts. After one of five of these dumb looking animals died, the air was filled with tiny midge like insects which covered all the animal handlers and died soon after. Nothing seemed to be amiss untill a few days later in deep space when all the 3. affected crew ate themselves to death. The chief medical officer had the presence of mind to incinerate the bodies before the second stage of life started to manifest. Of course, all this could have been avoided if someone had had the good sense to ask the natives why thy always wore a gause cloths over their breathing holes. From then on Barnum did ask the natives; and he traded with them. Why put your own life at risk when you could pay someone else to do it for you. He traded anything that was cheap for him, and habit forming for the locals; tobacco or some synthetic narcotic. His opperation expanded rapidly as he sought out new markets across the Milky Way. There were worlds with civilizations that had no space travel, but rare spices or metals to exchange, much like the exotic East in the days of sail boats on Earth. His favourite clients were the despotic rulers with a hankering for dangerous life forms to which they would feed their political enemies on feasting days. Most valuble were intelligent, pre technogoy life forms with laguage. They would become slaves or the performers of tricks in circuses back on Earth; or another planet (the animal rights movement had dissapeared with the rise of the New Gun Lobby in the mid twenty first century). Elliot had signed up for three years. The recruitment poster had a picture of C. W., as he was affectionately refered to, with his foot on an enourmous scaled creature holding a dart gun on some desert world, with the caption, 'Are You Happy Where You Are?' For Elliot the answer was no, and so he started his career as an intrepid space adventurer, mucking out cages in the dank bowels of a space transporter. But he liked his job. He liked the animals, especially the smart ones. He read as much as he could find about them. Their eating habits, social behavior, diseases, what ever he could learn. They were an endless source of fascination for him, and he was especially drawn to a pair of small bear like creatures that had come from the last planet to be plundered. They were four feet tall when upright, were covered in white fur and had large black eyes that did not blink. And they stared at him without moving whenever he was in their cage. At first he found this disconcerting, but after a while he got used to it, and then he was completely at ease. So much so, that cleaning out their cage became the highlight if his day. He spoken to them, told them about his problems, mostly with his boss, and his secret love for Susie, a young woman who worked in the kitchen. He was painfully shy with women, and practiced different pick up lines in front of the bears. 'Do you like historical adventure comedies?' he said to his audience of two, 'There's a feelly flick about the first colonization of Mars, and the romantic death by suffocation of Captain Kirkwood and his lover Angela de Bergman the actress'. His audience looked on mutely. 'She might go for that, every one loves the story of Captain Kirkwood,' he said. Elliot read the description of their home planet. It was nothing special. Mostly dry desert hibitat with low scrub and the remainants of some very large water courses. He speculated about their development; the fact that they walked upright with as much ease as they did on all fours, and he was sure that the glances that passed between them carried some meaning. Given his attitude to his work and that of his superiors, tension was inevitable. He was in their cage a week later when Kroll spoke to him ove the communicator, 4. 'Grimes, you must have done some thing wrong when you pacified that flesh eating bush, it's looking poorly. I don't need to remind you that damage to company property comes out of your wages. Get up here now and see if you can fix what you've broken'. Elliot knew he'd done nothing wrong. Kroll had messed up some where and was trying to shift the blame. Then, from behind him came a voice, 'We don't like him'. Elliot turned around to see both bears sitting with next to each other and looking at him with their black eyes. 'He's not nice, we don't like him,' said the one on the left. Elliot saw it’s mouth move, but for a few moments he was speechless. 'You can talk,' said Elliot feeling stupid stating the obvious. 'Yes,' said the same one, 'we speak many languages, yours is simple'. ' You're only supposed to be at stage three tool making, how did you get past the screening proccess,’ said Elliot. ‘We know when to speak, and when to listen,’ said the same bear. ‘You're not supposed to have language for another two million years. Thats what was written in the ship’s bio,’ said Elliot. This statement was recieced in silence. ‘Look, don’t speak to any one else, if the captain finds out you can speak he’d seel you to the first freak show he could find,’ said Elliot. ‘Oh, we know. We know who’s nice and who’s not,’ said the bear, it seemed to be the same one every time. ‘Do you know where you are?’ asked Elliot. ‘Yes, yes, we moving through the great empty noise in your shell,’ said the bear. ‘In the ship you mean,; said Elliot. ‘Yes, yes is good we will help you, we like you, we help you with that nasty one that talk to you with poison,’ said the bear. 'Kroll my boss?' said Elliot, 'Yes, he lies, he says he is proper boss, he is loot'... 'Luitenant?' said Elliot, 'Yes, he not proper boss, he lying, imposter,' said the bear. 5. 'You mean he lied about his qualifications?' said Elliot. 'He's scared, you can squash him,' said the bear. 'How do you know this? said Elliot. 'We listen,' we listen said the bear. It seemed to Elliot that while they couldn’t speak his language well ,they had no trouble uderstanding it. ‘Listen,’ said Elliot, ‘don’t say anything to anyone. If the captain finds out about you he’ll keep you on the ship, study you for a while and then sell you to the research labs on Io.’ ‘We know,’ said the bear. Elliot closed the cage door locking it behind him. His mind was spinning. As an emplotee of the company his duty was clear, to tell Kroll and take the bonus that was offered to any one who discovered a new sentient spices. But he wasn’t going to. Elliot found Kroll frowning through the bars at the bush. 'It's looking sick. What did you do to it,’ he said. 'You saw what I did. I used a standard issue aesthetic spray to pacify it. It’s in the manual, you can't blame this on me,' said Elliot. 'You don't think?' said Kroll, an unpleasant smile creeping across his wide pockmarked face, 'I can do any thing I want. I don't like your attitude Grimes you're a smart arse, trying to undermine my authority, and I think you've been negligent in your duties’. 'It's not dead,' said Elliot, knowing exactly what Krolls response was going to be. 'Not yet,' said Kroll, grinning widder. 'You're not qualified to make that assesment,' said Elliot, 'you're not a bio-officer'. 'i'm an officer in the service,I can make any assesment I like,' replied Kroll. 'Are you, really?' said Elloit. 'Where did you qualify?' said Elliot. 'That's none of your business shit bag,' said Kroll, the grin dissapearing from his face. 'It's amazing what you can find out when you have friends in their fourth year of computer science. There's almost no data base they can't get into, including the records of all the civil space cadet training academies,' said Elliot. Kroll's face became nastier as he said nothing, trying to read his opponent like a poker player. Elliot knew he'd hit the mark. 'There's nothing wrong with this guy, he just needs a bigger cage with some light and clean water, I'll look after it' said Elliot. Kroll face was tight, but he just nodded and walked away. 6. Elliot dragged the sick plant to another cage and attended to its needs. He was exhilarated by this success, by his sudden power over Kroll, and the danger that that inplied. He needed to celebrate. The animal handlers and technician’s mess had a bar that curved gently for 50 meters. Opposite the bar, across a stretch of yellow, vomit resistant yellow carpet with cheap plastic furniture, patrons could look out through a window into deep space. The window was an engineering marvel; 200 or so square meters of silicon titanium alloy only two centimeters thick, and holding back many tonnes of air preasure; it provided a talking point for numerous technical conversations as the workers slowly got smashed. The booze, provided cheaply, was flowing fast as cage muckers in kahki overalls rubbed shoulders with technicians in their skin tight blue uniforms. Elliot looked over the expanse of moving heads, and after a few seconds caught sight of a large bald one that he recognised. His friend Ferris Bull; old hand and mentor/law giver to the younger males. His voice was cleaerly audible above the din as Elliot approached. 'Hail tree slayer, warrior for the corporation. Come let us drink your health'. said Bull. ‘You’ll end up being an officer at this rate 'I hope not,' said Elliot taking a seat. 'What did you do to Kroll? When I passed him he had a face that would scare an Andromedean Hyena,' said Bull. 'Me, nothing,' said Elliot, 'maybe he didn't like being shown up for an incompetent.’ 'You won't get on in the company with that attitude my boy,' said Bull taking mouth full of beer. 'No, I'm afraid the life of an itinerant space farer isn't for you. Go home, find yourself a good wife and become a animal keeper in a hunting lodge for wealthy family; that's what you need to do.’ 'I’d like to see some of the galaxy first I think,' said Elliot, ‘explore new worlds.’ 'Ah, take it from old Bull my boy, fame is a fickle and cold hearted misrtess. She will tease you with her favours before leaving you cold and alone with nothing but the drink to comfort you,' he said. ‘You’d know all about that,’ said a voice from the table. ‘For a small donation I could tell you a tale of love that would have you weeping into your drinks,’ said Bull. ‘I’ll give you a bigger one if you don’t,’ replied the same voice raising a laugh. The banter continued, following the familiar path of war stories, women and money ,untill the subject of dangerous species came up. 'Did you hear about the expedition to Canopus? Looks like they got more than the bargained for,’ said Bull. 'How's that?' asked someone. 7. 'Well they found something alright. The ship was discovered floating in deep space with the whole crew dead except the captain, and he was raving away in some foreign language. The Psych technicians went to work on him and discovered some kind of mind parasite. Incorporeal, no trace in his brain, just complete a reprograming,’ said Bull exposing his gold teeth for emphasis. Elliot enjoyed the Bull’s mastery of this genere; deep space horror. 'Spare us the salty space dog tales Bull,' said the tech, 'we know you've spent your life shovelling shit out of cages.' 'Oh, and you'd know?' said Bull, 'safely tucked behind your computer screen. Well, when you find yourselves eating your own insides with a spoon, don't come crying to old John'. 'When I've finished mine I'll come for yours,' said the voice, 'you've got plenty to go around'. The table laughed again, and several more unkind remarks flew backwards and forwards; but Elliot was quiet. He finished his drink, left the table, and as he made his way to the nearest exit. He pushed through a group of drinkers and bumped onto Fluer Rosenbloom; almost spilling her drink. 'Hi Elliot, you need a shower,' she said smiling. ‘Oh hi, yeah I was working with these bears and...,’ he was in the center of the group and the center of attention; ‘I have to go...and, have a shower,’ he said stumbling through the other side of the group. ‘Bye Elliot,’ said Fluer. ‘Yeah, bye Elliot,’ said one of the circle. He left the mess via the quickest route. Once back in his cabin he had time to curse his own social ineptness. But he knew the cure, and threw himself into researching what would happen to his new friends if they were sold as amusements or slaves. What he found made him determined to keep the real status of the bears a secret. On the bridge of the African Queen captain William Clyde was troubled. He sat in his tall captains chair and faced chief engineer Enoch Jones as he delivered the bad news about their fuel. 'It's not good captain, we've been leaking propellent into space since we left that desert world orbiting Lambda Draconis,' said Jones. 'And this leak, has it been fixed?' asked captain Clyde. 8. 'We should have external tank three repaired in 24 hours,' said Jones. 'And whats the fuel situation?' asked the captain. 'Well it's not good, we've lost 40 percent of our liquid propellant which means we don't have enough to get us to Perseus. The good news is that we've only accelerated to 14 % of our cruising velocity so we have more than enough fuel to get us back to Draconis,' said Jones. Captain Clyde's stomach muscles tightened involuntarily. A detour like this, while not disastrous, would mean an extention of his service to cover the short fall in prifits. He was close to retirement. 'And the cause of the leak?' asked captain Clyde. 'That's the strange part,' said the engineer. 'I can handle strange,' said captain Clyde, 'that's the business we're in'. 'Something ate through the external cladding on the tank when we were on the planet, and continued to eat its way through tank itself,' said Jones. 'We did a thorough evalation of the atmosphere, it was benign,' said the captain. 'Yes you're quite right but this didn't come from the atmosphe or the geology, it was organic,' said Jones. 'What kind of organic?' asked Clyde. 'Faeces,' replied Jones. 'Faeces?' said the captain. 'Animal faeces,' said the engineer. 'So you're telling me that because some animal crapped on my ship, we have to go back and add several weeks to our journey,' said Clyde, again he winced inwardly; he would never hear the end of this in the officers club back on Earth. 'That's correct Captain; except we're not sure it was an animal,' said Jones. 'Plant?' said Clyde. 'No, not a plant; we found er, finger marks in the faeces, a kind of swirl patern,' said Jones. Captain Jones looked down at the ground and held the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. 'Don't tell me it was primative art,' he said. 'Well I'm no ethno archeologist Captain, but ah, it looked a little bit symetrial,' said Jones shifting around slightly in his seat. 'That's something I suppose. At least we're being held up by a creature with aesthetic sensibilities. Maybe we can capture one of the little buggers and give it some paint and a canvas; sell it back on Earth,' said the captain. 9. 'Could be sir,' replied the engineer, 'People pay good money for the worst kind of rubbish these days.’ 'Alright turn us around, lets make this as painless as possible,' said the captain. 'Yes Sir,' said the engineer and left the bridge. Unlike many of the other captains, William Clyde was curious. An amateur biologist and alien ethnologist, he kept detailed records of many of the higher life forms that came on to his ship. His passion was to speculated on possible development trajectories of different species. Which would go on to build cities and space ships, and which would not. His favourite pastime was to play a kind of chess with the ships computer where they manipulated various external factors to see what it would take to create a civilization. 'Computer,' said captain, 'you heard that exchange?' The question was rhetorical. 'Yes captain, I did. It's a pretty puzzle and no mistake,' the computer. 'What can you tell me about our last stop. The planet I mean,' said Clyde. 'No real in depth study was done into the geology or vulcanology, but it's a dry place that doesn't really have the nescessary conditions for development of higher species. Not nearly enough biodiversity; although there are erossion channels indicating a larger volume of surface water in the past,' said the computer. 'What are the stats on a civilization of some sort,' said the captain. 'Just calibrating, calibrating, calibrat... I give it .0654 % captain,' said the computer. 'No native artists?' said Clarkeson. 'Highly unlikely, our sabotuer is more the product of nature than nurture. Although I'd like to have a look at the alementary canal that produce somthing capable of eating through the ships hull. Could be some kind of defense mechanism like a skunk,' said the computer. 'Some skunk, 'said Clarkeson, 'I'm retiring now; see how far you have to tweek the perameters to come up with an intelligent life scenario'. 'I'll have them ready for when you wake up,' said the computer. Elliot awoke in the semi darkness and slowly became aware of his surroundings. For a brief moment he lay there enjoying the movement of air on his face and the soft sound as it flowed through the vents . Then he felt it. The subtle sense of pulling that indicated acceleration had changes direction by 180 degrees. Maybe it was the change that had woken him up; the gentle bump that the ships engines made when they reversed their thrust. Why, he thought, what had happened to make them reverse their direction? Then he remembered the events of the previous day; the sense of triumph and power that had come from his encounter with Kroll. He was not one to crow about such things but the taste was sweet, and he some how felt - protected from any blow back as a result of his black mailing his boss. 10. The image of the the two bears returned to him, and he felt a sudden sense of excitement and curiosity. He wanted to talk to them again; felt sure they knew about things that he wanted to know; he couldn't say exactly what, but they knew. He was also sure that they could tell him what to say to Mary; something that would make her give him that look, the look he had seen before in the eyes of other women when they reapraised their opinion of him and looked at him very intently. He wanted that from Mary. He got out of bed, pulled his pyjamas off and walked naked across the room. He pushed the button on the caffeine cooker and steppped into the tiny wash cubicle. A luke warm stream of water dribbled from a hole above his head, and Elliot rubbed a cube of hard body cleaner under his armspits and over his stomach trying to work up a lather. After 90 seconds the water stopped flowing, and stepping out of the shower he pulled his overalls on without drying himself. It was still two hours before the start of shift but he was going to see the bears. When he reached their cage they were sitting down just behind the bars looking up at him. 'Hello Elliot,' said the same bear. 'We've been waiting for you'. Somehow this didn't strike Elliot as odd. 'I'm a little early today I couldn't sleep,' said Elliot. 'No,' said the left hand one, 'too exciting, too much going on'. Elliot didn't think to ask what they meant by this, he just accepted it. For him there was a lot going on. 'I wanted to ask you, do you woo on your planet. I mean what do you do if you want to make someone like you a lot when ah, god, I'm even making the assumption that you have two genders, but...' said Elliot. 'No, No,' said the one bear, 'we understand, we understand. It's not good to be alone, even creature like Kroll has mate'. 'He does?' said Elliot. 'How do you know that?' 'We listen,' said the bear. 'It figures, there's no justice in the univrese,' said Elliot. 'There’s this one girl and she’s really sweet...’ 'We know, we know, she comes on this level when you not here,' said the bear. 'She is pup from litter of three and other one not speak or change face. Mind frozen'. Their language seemed to be failing them because for a few seconds Elliot could make no sense from their words, and then, 'You mean she has brothers and sisters,' said Elliot, ' and one of them doesn't speak or...you mean Autistic,' said Elliot excitedly, 'brother or sister?' 'Like you,' said the right hand one. 'A brother,' said Elliot. 'If you make brother for you like same...' 11. 'You mean lie to her that I've got an Autistic brother that would be a way in?' said Elliot. 'You guys are amazing. If you want more food or different food just tell me and I'll get it, any thing you want'. He started gushing. "Food good. Plenty also. Now go and find mate,' said the one on the left. Elliot desperately wanted to, but he had to finish his work. Each cage was a troublesome chore, and he said a silent apology to his small friends as he swept their mess out of sight. When he had finished, Elliot went back to his quarters, logged into the ships library data base and searched for an image with a passable likeness. He loaded onto his Holo-Cube, performed a few basic manipulations and headed for the mess. He chose a table well away from anyone else, and sat hunched in front of a holographic image of his mother in a shopping centre trying to control a young autistic boy who was having a tantrum. The line was in the water and Eliot was sure he was using the right bait; he didn't have to wait very long. Mary came up behind him, 'Hi Elliot, who's that?' she said. 'That's my brother, he can be a bit of a handful sometimes,' said Elliot with a forced smile. 'I know exactly what you mean,' said Mary laying her hand on Elliots forearm, 'my older brother has a melt down when ever there is a change in routine'. 'You too,' said Elliot feigning surprise. He couldn't believe the ruse had worked, and a part of him looked on, waiting for him too drop the ball; but he didn't. The conversation continued untill the mess closed, and they were the last ones there. As the lights flashed off and on he thought, here it is he thought, now or never; 'Look, there's a holo presentation of alien arachnoid feeding habits in laboritory two tomorrow do you want to...' 'Yes, I'd love to,' said Mary. And so Elliot went back to his dorm walking on air. 2nd liutenant Kroll sat by himself in the officers mess. It was a much plusher affair than the handlers mess, with thick carpet, real oak tables and chairs and serving droids that approached silently with your order before had to ask for it. It too was open to the heavens, but through a dome window which served as a ceiling. However Kroll didn’t notice any of this because now he was troubled, and he was trouble because he felt vulnerable. He didn’t like that feeling; he had spent his entire life dealing with potential threats and enemies just so he didn’t have to feel it. But now he was exposed and he was going to have to deal with source of the threat. A short man with sharp features and a slight limp entered the mess and sat down with Kroll. It was his friend Severin Bowles. ‘So good of you to make it,’ said Kroll. 12. ‘Sorry old boy, another melt down in the engine room. The neutron drives aren’t exactly state of the art you know,’ said Bowles. ‘I have a problem and I need your help,’ said Kroll. 'Of course,' said Bowles, 'I owe you.’ 'Yes, you do; not that I'm calling in a favour,' said Kroll in a tone of voice that coveyed the exact opposite. 'No, of course not; fellow officers and all that,' said Bowles as he leant forward and topped up the other's drink from a bottle of ship brewed vodka which sat between them. The bottle itself was black, and had the farmiliar picture of Barnum posing holding a rifle with his foot on the neck of a dead herbivore. 'I'm having a bit of trouble with one of my animal handlers, the one I've been telling you about,' said Kroll. 'The alien hugger?' asked Bowles. Kroll nodded. 'Put him on report and let the uppity little fellow spend a week cleaning out the bilge,' said Badger. 'It's a little more complicated than that, he ah, discovered certain irregularities in my resume, and has threatened to expose me if I make his life difficult,' said Kroll. 'Mmm, a sticky one. Don't worry old boy, your secret's safe with me ,' said Bowles. 'Yes,' said Kroll with unesessary emphasis, 'I know it is. We both know that there a certain discrepancies on the ships manifest that would embarass certain crew members if they were ever to come to light'. 'No need to be like that, we're all friends here,' said Bowles with tight smile. 'So what can old Bowlers do for you? Bodies are dam hard to get rid of on board ship you know, all that DNA, and our radar would pick one up floating away from the ship'. 'It souldn't come to that,' said Kroll, 'he's a chicken shit. I don't think he has what it takes to carry through with the threat, but I'm not at all comfrortable with him knowing about my dirty laundry. Anyway, I'm not sure I agree with you about the DNA; I've been giving that scenario some thought'. 'I'm sure you have,' said Bowles. 'I want you to put him under surveylance,' said Kroll. 'you're the technical expert, bug his quarters and work place. See if you can determine which way he's going to jump,' said Kroll. 'If the little shit is going to spill the beans on me, we might have to take some preemptive action'. 'Consider it done; I'll put a microphone under his pillow and if he talks in his sleep I'll know about it,' said Badger. 'And you can edit out the boring bits,' said Kroll. ‘Quite right,’ said Bowles. 13. Elliot found himself standing in front of the bear's cage again, but this time, he had no idea how he had gotten there. He was still wearing his pyjamas, but there was no sense of strangeness about it, or any disorientation, like the time he came too in the middle of a busy bus station on a winter morning after an all night drinking session after his final exams. No, this was more like a pleasant dream than a nightmare. Again they stood right at the front of the cage, but this time the one that never spoke was reaching through the bars and pulling at his pyjama pants. 'We're glad you're here,' said its mate. 'We need help of you.’ 'How can I help,' said Elliot. He wanted to help. 'Kroll has friend,he knows,’ said B1 'Who knows? What do they know?' said Elliot. 'Small friend of Kroll walking bad' said B1. Elliot searched his memory and came up with Bowles. 'Yes I know him, short with shifty eyes. He knows about you two; how?' said Elliot. 'He listen with beetle,' said left, 'we must talk to him, help him, make friend of him'. Elliot thought for a moment and realised that they were talking about a listening device; a bug. The bears pointed to its hiding place in a corner on the ceiling and Elliot moved it to a different location where it couldn’t do any more harm. 'What do you want me to do?' said Elliot. 'Bring him here and we talk,' said left. 'Bring him here and we tell him thing he need to know'. 'How will I do that? How will I persuade an officer to come down here into the bowels of the ship with me?' said Elliot. 'Say you do deal to sell us and become rich,' said right, '100 million standards each. Rich for life'. 'Will that work?' said Elliot. 'Ooh yes,' said the Bears in unison, 'he very greedy,' and they both looked as if they were smiling broadley. 'Go now,' said left. 'Listen I...' 'GO!' they said again together: And he turned and started running up the corridor. 'Captain!’ It was the ship's computer intruding on his sleep just as an old high school sweet heart was about to rekindle a flame that he thought was long dead. 'Captain,' it said again, 'I'm sorry to have to disturb your ah, sleep, but I have some more information about the plant we are rapidly coming up on'. 14. ‘What is it,’ said the captain. ‘I’ve been running some hypotheticals, and there’s nothing to suggest any future evolution for the present life forms, however I’ve done a spectral analysis of the planets surface, and there appears to be certain subteranian structures that are too symetrcal to be naturaly occuring,’ said the computer. ‘How symetrical?’ said the captain. ‘Squares and rectangles with corners and nice clean edges,’ said the computer. ‘Not to mention some proportions that look suspiciously like irrational numbers’. ‘An ancient civilization. But how ancient?’ said the captain. ‘Hard to say: Old,’ said the computer. ‘So, a remenant life form, once great, now reduced to painting with its own waste,’ said the captain, ‘sad really, still, could make for some intersting study, don’t you think?’ ‘Judging by the symetry of these formations they must have had a fairly advanced mathematics,’ said the computer. ‘And there’s something else.’ ‘What?’ said captain Clyde. ‘A flat parabolic dish 30 kilometers across and buried three kilometers underground,’ said the computer. ‘Material?’ said the captain. ‘That’s something else that’s odd; we don’t know. It’s totaly absorbent of all electro magnetic frequencies, so we only know of it’s existence by it’s shadow,’ said the computer. ‘Parabolic you say. A reciever?’ ‘That’s a possibility,’ said the computer. ‘Interesting. Let’s keep this a secret shall we? There could be a Nobel prize in this and I don’t want any of my more self seeking officers stealing my thunder,’ said the captain. ‘How many would you say can’t be trusted?’ said the computer. ‘As I said, let’s say nothing to anyone. When do we land?’ ‘16 hours,’ said the computer. 15. Elliot saw Avery first as they approached each other along a dimly lit corridor on the engineering level. ‘What are you doing here Grimes; lost your way?’ said Bowles when he looked up from the clip board he was carrying. His manner was affable but coveyed no warmth, like a low energy ship board light globe. ‘Well I was hoping to find you actually,’ said Elliot. ‘I have a dilemma’. ‘Well, what can an engineer do for one of you animal handling types,’ said Avery with a lifeless bonomie. ‘Well sir,’ Elliot hardly ever said sir, ‘you have a reputation among the lower ranks for being approachable and I need help.’ ‘Tell me whats on your mind Grimes, I’m sure we can sort it out. No problem to big,’ said Bowles. ‘It’s one of the alien spices pairs; I think think they are displaying signs of higher intelligence,’ said Elliot. ‘Are they indeed?’ said Avery his eyes widening in what looked to Elliot to be genuine surprise. ‘Well, it was a good thing you came to me, there are certain unscrupulous people on board who might take advantage of such a situation. Show me, take me to them”. Elliott led him down to the lower levels and along the darkened corridor to cage of the bears. But the door was open, and the cage was empty. ‘There not here,’ said Elliot. ‘Are you playing a game with me Grimes’ said Bowles, his tone turning nasty. ‘No , of course not. They are quite clever, maybe they got out; look there they are ’ said Elliot pointing down the corridor into the darkness. Both bears were standing a good distance away, barely visible in the gloom and making some kind of hand gestures. Bowles pulled a stun gun out of his jacket and started walking towards them. ‘Stay here Grimes,’ he said, ‘your surplus to requirement’. ‘There’s no need for the weapon Bowles, they’re friendly’. ‘So am I. Stay here’. Bowles walked towards the bears, who retreated further into the darkness. Elliot followed at a distance, fearful of what Bowles might do, but he hadn’t gone far when he heard the sound Bowles yelling, a weapon discharging and then a spash. After that there was screeching like a chimpanzee and them silence. Elliot’s heart was pounding as the two bears came out of the darkness side by side. ‘He bad man but good now,’ they said B1, ‘he go back in food and help grow new thing, good thing. He listen to us, but we listen to him’. Both the bears had a spring in their step and started chittering away to each other in another language as Elliot followed them back to their cage. To him they looked pleased with themselves, but as he opened the cage door and stepped inside, he felt a tug at his jacket and heard the door snap closed behind. He turned around to see them looking at him and holding his radio, his keys, and Bowles’ gun. ‘You stay here Elliot,’ said B1, ‘don’t be scared, we like you.’ They both disappeared into the gloom, and soon after that the Barnum and Sons zooship African Queen touched down on the planets surface. 16. Captain Clyde drove down the rocky ravine in all terrain eight wheeler ‘spider’. AI controled and with a meter of play in each wheel, it could negitiate impossible terrain with almost no discomfort to the passengers; albiet very slowly. He ordered the vehicle deployed as soon as they had touched down and headed across country towards the alien underground structure that had so captured his imagination. After an hours travel along level ground a vast crater had opened up in front of him which was ringed by cliffs a thousand meters high. Consulting an an enlarged aerial picture, he found a narrow ravine and after a few hours of slow progress he came out at the bottom. ‘How far is that cliff line?’ asked Clyde. ‘40 kilometers,’ said the computer. ‘The area of this plain is slightly larger than our underground dish’. ‘What’s the surface we’re traveling on. It can’t be natural, it’s too smooth,’ said Clyde. ‘Hard to tell without closer inspection, probably heat treated though,’ said the computer. The captain looked across the plain and said, ‘That’s a lot of heat’. The buggy continued it’s rapid progress across the plain untill it reached the center, where a small hill rose a hundred or so meters above the surrounding flatness. It was a gentle rise, and at the top, Clyde found himself looking down into a shallow depression that appeared to be a perfect section of a sphere. Clyde stopped the vehicle at the edge and walked slowly into it. Almost at once he felf an odd sensation, like entering a crowded room and looked around half expecting to see a people drinking and talking. He took a few more steps and stopped dead. He could hear a voice, obviously alien, speaking in a very fast, stocatto flow of consonant sounds a bit like morse code. He looked around and up, but saw nothing except the native landscape. He moved a few more steps down slope and that voice disappeared to be replaced by another one; this time slower and more gutteral. ‘I can hear vioces,’ said Clyde to the AI, ‘alien voices. What do you think?’ ‘I don’t know ,’ said the AI, ‘but I would advise against going any further before we’ve done sometesting. We don’t know what neurological damage might occur.’ ‘I don’t agree. I think they wish me well, I think they’re listening,’ said Clyde. He continued walking slowly toward the centre with a growing feeling of well being. Then he lay down. Elliot awoke to the feeling of a small furry paw pushing him on the shoulder. ‘Wake up Ellliot, we need you,’ said B1. Elliot sat up on the the pile of cage litter. ‘You follow us,’ they said together. They led him through the ship, past many of the cages that used to house fauna and flora from other worlds, but now held the ship’s crew. As they made their way through the corridors and open space of the African Queen, Elliot saw other bears, dozens of them; all white, and all in pairs. They reached the open hatch, and Elliot stepped out into the warm dry atmoshere of the bears home planet; one of them handed him a holo recorder and said, ‘You take picture, we remeber’. In front of Elliot was the dead body of 1st liutenant Kroll, and holding a 19th century flintlock rifle with it’s foot resting on Kroll’s smashed skull, was a bear with what looked to Elliot like grin on it’s white cuddly face. ‘