Tag Archives: Rats

Out of Time

Just a heads-up here. I’m starting on the third and final part of my fourth science fiction novel in the Rational Series. It’s called “Out of Time”. If you like sci-fi, especially from an author who does his homework, I think you’ll really like this one.

Like my other books, you can read the book “over my shoulders” while I’m working on it but, once I finish and publish it, all you’ll see are the links to purchase the book.

So take a look, over my shoulder, and let me know what you think of it. Just click the following link: Out of Time.

Mike Stone

Raanana, Israel

 

 

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Chapter 12: Departure

Lonesome was lying in the corner of his room, conserving his energy, while Cadmus was getting the few contents of his backpack together for the trip back home. He had enjoyed his recuperation with Remi and Galen, it had been most interesting, but now he was ready to return to Kaly’s memories on his home moon of 4g, a little wiser but also a little humbler about what knew and what he didn’t know.

“We called ahead at your hotel to tell them you’d be checking out today. They said you’d only be charged for the one day,” Remi said when Cadmus walked into the kitchen with his backpack. “We also called the terminal to let them know you’d be departing and that you’d need a tug to retrieve your ship from long-term parking.”

“Thanks Remi,” he said.

“Do you want anything to eat or drink before you go,” Galen asked.

“No.”

“We’re just a few moments’ walk from the garden and the hotel.”

Cadmus whistled to Lonesome who came bounding into the kitchen looking for his water bowl.

They left the cave and strolled up the path to the stand of trees on the ledge overlooking the valley and backing into the public garden between the two hotels. Cadmus never realized just how close the cave had been to the garden and hotels. Perhaps their cave had been in a higher—order dimension and he hadn’t been aware of it.

They stopped at the trees and looked out over the valley below. They felt a pleasant breeze wend through their clothing.

“I almost forgot to ask you both about a dark moon I passed on my way into the 3 system, 3b I think,” Cadmus broke the silence among them. “Can you tell me any more about it than the little I remember from what we were taught in our schools?”

“What were you taught?”

“That 3b had been inhabited by humans who had destroyed their moon, turning it into a cinder and that there were no artifacts or evidence of their existence.”

“Actually there were.”

“What do you mean?”

“We were there,” Remi answered. “Well, not Galen and I. My great grandparents, Lem and Yani, were born there.” Remi told Cadmus about the Lem’s and Yani’s Sapien parents, about the mutation, caused by working in the cobalt mines, that caused their amygdalae to disappear and their neurons to reroute directly into their prefrontal cortexes. The mutation also turned their skins blue.

The Sapiens on 3b believed the blue babies were abominations in the eyes of their god and killed all the ones they could get their hands on. A few Sapien parents, like Evanor and Thort, Lem’s parents, and Kivo and Thana, Yani’s parents, tried to protect their children from the hatred of the others. As it turned out, the children had certain attributes that proved advantageous so that the children ended up protecting their parents.

“The Sapiens called us Rats, for Rationals,” Remi continued. “My great grandmother, Yani, called the Sapiens Saps, probably a childish means of dealing with their hateful name calling, but the names caught on and stuck.

The Rationals tried to get away from the Sapiens, made their way to an uncharted area of 3b, and created a refuge for themselves in a fertile area with many natural defenses. The Sapiens organized an army with rifles, canons, and balloons and tried their best to exterminate the Rationals.

“After failing to crush us and losing many soldiers in the process,” Remi said, “they developed a cobalt bomb and shot it from a magnetic canon into the Refuge.”

Lem and the rest of the Rationals at the refuge saw it coming long before it was even built and they built a hyper-space tunnel between their Refuge on 3b and the unpopulated moon of 3a. It was rather primitive but effective. By the time the bomb was launched at the Refuge, the last Rational had left 3b, sealing the tunnel door shut.

As the Rationals had predicted, or seen depending on who was telling the story, the cobalt bomb set off a chain reaction of explosions that burnt the atmosphere and the surface of 3b, along with all the Sapiens.

“So apparently you and I have common roots,” Cadmus said after a while. “Do either of you have any idea where our common species came from?”

Galen had been quiet all this time but now he spoke up. “That’s a bit of a problem. As you might well know, Sapiens weren’t very reliable historians so much of the history predating the earliest Church records was attributed to stories and myths, but it is rumored that the Sapiens were deposited in this part of the Draco galaxy by robots who brought them along with them from a planet called Earth2 somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy. The robots called them humans. The robots kept very good records but unfortunately they were written in a language called ML1, which nobody living today can decipher.”

Cadmus asked, “What happened to the robots?”

“They were all destroyed by some sort of digital virus,” Galen answered.

“And if there was an Earth2, what happened to Earth?”

“There may or may not have been a planet called Earth in a galaxy called the Milky Way that collided with Andromeda a long time ago,” Galen suggested.

Cadmus had no more questions he wanted to ask.

They walked through the park, Lonesome getting in some last-minute sniffing. Remi held his arm as they negotiated the hyper-bridge over the chasm near the entrance gate.

At the hotel entrance, Cadmus hugged Galen and Remi, and thanked them for saving his life and taking such good care of Lonesome and him. They wished him a safe journey back home. He turned to the door but then something made him stop and turn around quickly, but they were gone already.

He walked through the doors with Lonesome up to the desk.

“I trust your time with us was interesting,” the clerk at the check-out counter asked.

“Yes,” he replied, “it certainly was.”

“Please take your seats in those chairs over there and make sure to buckle your seatbelts and those of your dagu,” she said as though he were an experienced interdimensional traveler. “When you are ready, just press the button on your arm rest.”

After buckling Lonesome into his chair and then buckling himself in, he pressed the button, closing his eyes. Cadmus felt his body lurching backwards.

He opened his eyes and saw the shuttle through the trees. He unbuckled himself and then Lonesome who jumped down and started barking at a flutterby that had landed on his nose.

They walked through the trees toward the shuttle. An attendant asked him whether he had a reservation for the flight to the terminal.

Cadmus said yes he thought so and fumbled around in his backpack looking for the papers.

“Don’t worry sir,” the attendant said kindly, “somebody called ahead and made arrangements for you both.”

Cadmus thanked her and they climbed into the shuttle, taking their seats. He checked to make sure there were no passengers sitting next to Lonesome. He fastened his dagu’s seatbelt and then his own, looking around the shuttle cabin and then looked at each of the safety signs. Some were written in Draco.763 Standard and some were written in what he assumed to be ML1. They all had MASER audio streams directed at anyone who looked directly at a sign. They’d get their safety message to you one way or another.

The steps retracted back up into the shuttle underside and locked down. There was a faint whistle of air and a sense of pressure against his eardrums. A female voice told the passengers the shuttle would be taking off momentarily.

Lonesome barked twice but before Cadmus could shush him, the shuttle’s engines began their own roaring and the shuttle lifted above the tree line. The ground beneath slowly became a lush green quilt of beauty interspersed by wisps of clouds. Soon the blue canopy of 3a darkened into a black night studded with stars. He looked out the window and saw the lovely blue-green moon roll to the side. A small point became brighter and larger, turning slowly into Draco.763.3 Terminal.

The shuttle adjusted attitude and approached its assigned docking port. He barely felt the press-relax-lock between the shuttle and the Terminal port. A few moments later there was a sound of air exchanged between the shuttle and the Terminal port and then the portal door opened. The Terminal air smelled slightly stale. He frowned without thinking about it and unlocked his seatbelt and that of Lonesome who jumped off his seat and waited for Cadmus to follow him.

They came out through Gate 138A and followed the arrows as did their fellow shuttle passengers and the merging passengers from other shuttles arriving from other sectors on 3a.

Cadmus followed the arrow to the long-term parking pick-up spoke. When he arrived, he stopped in front of a vacant screen. A pleasant looking Rational avatar appeared on the screen and asked how she could be of assistance.

“I want to go back home to Draco.763.4g. I need my ship.”

“Please prepare for DNA spectral analysis flash identification.”

After the flash the avatar told him his ship was waiting for him at Gate 28M. He thanked the avatar who smiled and then the screen was blank again. He followed the arrows to Gate 28M.

When Cadmus and Lonesome arrived at the gate he was flashed again. The gate portal opened and they stepped into their ship, humble but home for the next two hundred and seventy days. Lonesome ran to his favorite corner beside the rocking chair.

He checked the consoles and saw that his ship had been topped up and restocked, even Lonesome’s favorite synthetic meats.

The rocker and folding table were where he left them, next to the picture window. The calendar and checklist were still taped to the wall. Most importantly the photo of Kaly was still there on the window ledge. He picked it up, lost in thought, still married to her memory, in spite of his imaginary transgression during the shock of seeing Remi naked that one time.

He put the photograph back on the window ledge. He walked over to the consoles, sat down, and clicked the engine warm-up sequence. The mechanical joints tensed up and the portal lock released them. The ship floated back and the engines whirred with a soft throbbing sound. The ship was now moving steadily backward in a straight line. The Terminal moved away, still looming large in front of them, but a little less so than before.

When the ship had reached a safe distance from the Terminal, it turned away slowly, and then stopped, waiting for permission to proceed. After a few moments the command feed started to display on the running log and the ship’s auto-response answered back.

His ship began to move, slowly at first, then picking up speed, maneuvering around the terminal until it had a clear vector to his home planet Draco.763.4, at which point it adjusted attitude once more.

He felt the expected mechanical shiver of his craft as the massive solar sails unfolded and spread out to catch the faint radiation from Draco.763. The engines quieted down somewhat.

Cadmus settled down for the long trip home. He looked at his checklist to check what there was to do.

Lonesome was snoring beside him.

from Out of Time

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

 

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Out of Time

Well, it’s about time. Literally. I’ve been cooking up a sequel to Whirlpool, the third novel of the Rational Series. On a back burner so far back that I was hardly aware of it.

The title I’m considering for it is “Out of Time”. Of course it doesn’t mean what you’d think it means. Think literally.

This is all I’ve managed to flesh out so far.

Assumptions “Out of Time” is based on:

  1. A creature (a Rat or Rational, a more advanced human-like species appearing in the second (The Rats and the Saps) and third (Whirlpool) novels of the series from the intermediate future of our universe, warns a human (a Sap or Homo Sapien) from the present (sometime in our future relatively speaking) of an imminent attack on them by creatures from the distant future.
  2. Rats can see in any dimension as far as the event horizon.
  3. Frats (Future Rats) can see all the way to the end of every dimension.
  4. Think of it like chess. Most people who barely know the rules of the game can’t think more than one or two moves ahead. People who have played in chess tournaments can often think ten or so moves ahead. A chess master sees the entire game sequence from beginning to end before he makes his first move.

The Story Line:

  1. There are still a few human planets spread ever so thinly across the local cluster of galaxies, but none are aware of the others.
  2. Rat planets far outnumber Sap (human) planets. Rats are not only aware of each other’s presence on other worlds; they are well organized with a Dyson sphere in every solar system. They had to in order to keep warm.
  3. What the Rats weren’t aware of, at least they couldn’t be sure of, was the existence of the Frats. Rats surmised them but they never found any hard evidence or came up with any solid proofs that Frats existed.
  4. Frats understood the nature of time and space; for instance, they knew that time was the consciousness of time and space was the consciousness of space. Underpinning the fabric of space-time was consciousness. A field of consciousness pervaded the multiverse. Somewhere or other there was always a Big Bang going on as universes became self-aware. Space and time spew forth and collapse, each in their own isolated event-islands, bubbles of insignificant cause and effect. The multiverse always was and always will be. But what of consciousness? In the beginning was the word and that word contained all meaning.

That’s all that has come to me so far, but I’ve been through this process thrice before. Once I get it down on paper or digital ether, I empty my head and it starts to fill up with more ideas, as the story organism gives birth to its own logic. The storyline is incomplete. It will develop in its own way, in its own time.

If you’re interested, you can look over my shoulder while I write.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 43: Assessment

The doctors examined the recovered bodies two weeks later. They were badly decomposed. The six burnt corpses were balloon pilots. They had been killed apparently when their balloons exploded on them. The burnt holes in each of the balloon skins were probably caused by lightning. The rest of the commandos, all present and accounted for, except for one, were blue from cyanide poisoning, probably from the cyanide gas canisters that had burst open on the rocks when the balloons had crashed. The missing commando was Sangor. So was the male corpse found hanging from the skag tree. The woman was his wife, Sirka.

Sangor had been a captive of the Rats. Maybe they turned him. Maybe his wife had persuaded him to betray his species.

The sector commander ordered a unit to round up Sangor’s neighbors for questioning, along with his fellow captives. The former captives confirmed that Sangor had spent a lot of time with one of the Rats and had not seemed to share their enthusiasm when the men had talked about escaping. Several of the men said the Rats were quick and devious, and smarter than most of us all put together. The Rats seemed pretty sure of themselves. They said the Rats were able to control the weather, that they were deadly accurate with lightning bolts. They said the Rats had some pretty advanced technologies, like that glass wall at the entrance to the cave they were kept in. The men had not seen any Rat soldiers or war materiel, except for that head Rat. It had been impossible to get any idea of what kind of forces our people were up against.

Some of what the former captives said was probably just ignorant speculation, but some rang true as a bell in a church tower. The picture of defeat and betrayal was becoming clear to the commander. Maybe the Rats had left a minimum contingent to defend their homeland and were preparing to launch an attack on us, the likes of which we could scarcely imagine. Maybe they had crossed Dead River and were already in Sector 127.

The Sector 84 Commander requested an urgent meeting with the president.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

 

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Chapter 35: Betrayal

Sangor asked to see Lem. Actually he just thought about seeing Lem. When Lem came to the compound to get Sangor, he came with shackles and chains. Lem was sufficiently intimidating that none of the other prisoners rose to block him or to interfere with whatever he intended to do. A few of Sangor’s friends felt sorry for what they thought the Rats were going to do to Sangor for trying to escape. They also thought they might be next in line to get whatever was going to be done to Sangor. Sangor walked glumly past Lem toward the glass wall. Lem turned around and walked after him, scanning the closed faces of the prisoners on either side of him with threat in his eyes.

After they had left the compound and were out of sight of the prisoners, Lem told Sangor to halt. He removed the shackles from Sangor’s wrists and ankles. Sangor rubbed his wrists and then his ankles where the edges of the metal rings had bitten into his flesh.

“Why did you want to see me,” Lem asked, knowing the answer, but also knowing that Saps had to say a thought out loud in order to be persuaded by it, even if it was their own thought.

Sangor said, “I do not want to return to my countrymen… I would rather cast my lot with you and your people.

Lem was silent for a long moment. Finally he said, “That is a very difficult decision for you… You would be lonely and depressed for the rest of your days.”

Sangor said, “It’s what I want more than anything, but first I must return home to fetch my wife and bring her back with me.”

Lem said, “That would be very dangerous for you both. If your friends or countrymen found out what you intended, they would certainly kill you both.”

“I am prepared to take that chance,” Sangor said.

Lem told Sangor, “You must betray us. It is the only way your compatriots will trust you and let you live long enough to escape with your wife.”

Sangor looked Lem squarely in his eyes and said, “I will never betray the Rats, even if my life depends on doing so.”

Lem answered Sangor softly saying, “You must do so, if you wish to survive. The Saps will learn all you know about us. They will plan an attack to overwhelm us at our weakest point… The attack will not succeed, you may be assured.”

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Part 6: Choice; Chapter 32: Some Chose Death

Sangor looked across the table at the Rat. He had never seen an adult Rat in his life, only Rat children. Even though they were both sitting, it was obvious that the Rat would tower over him, standing up, though Sangor was not considered short by any means. Small head, long neck, lanky muscular body and arms, dark blue skin, blue eyes, and blue hair. He looked like he’d come straight from the mine his father had worked in, the mine that had eventually killed him. This Rat would have been invisible in the mine if he’d have stripped off his clothes and closed his eyes.

Sangor calculated the odds in his head: there was just him and this Rat. Maybe Sangor could take him. Maybe not. Anyway he wasn’t sure how he’d find his way back to the river. His best bet was to check out the lay of the land. Funny how they had no maps of this part of the world. He wondered about that. Sangor should try to find out what he could and then, when the time was ripe…

“Where are my friends?” Sangor asked Lem testily.

Lem responded after a moment, “Are you feeling any better now?”

Sangor said cautiously, “I suppose so… What about my friends, the other captives?”

“They are facing the same dilemma you are facing at different tables in different parts of the forest,” Lem answered.

“What dilemma is that?” Sangor demanded to know.

 “Whether your time line ends abruptly or extends into a future that you cannot imagine,” Lem answered.

“What do you mean?” Sangor asked his captor.

“Whether you choose death or life,” Lem explained patiently, “but you’ve already chosen, haven’t you?”

Sangor had already chosen life. He had concluded from his captor that the Rat army was vastly superior to the Sap army and, one on one, they seemed quite formidable. It was also clear that the Rats knew the Uncharted Areas far better than his friends and he ever could hope to know. The smart thing to do would be to bide his time and wait for an opportunity to present itself.

As it turned out, the choice was not so obvious. More than half the captives chose death; well, they didn’t actually choose death per se. They decided they’d be damned if they were going to play nice with the stinking Rat sitting across the table from them. They’d overcome the Rat and make a break for it or die trying. Almost before the Sap captives thought about lunging across the table at their captor or running away from him, the Rats reached across and snapped their time lines, almost as easily as snapping their necks.

All the Rats were Lem.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Part 5: Prisoners of War; Chapter 30: Captivity

The Sap scouts, cavalrymen, infantrymen, and other miscellaneous soldiers, who were never heard from again, were captured alive by Rat defenders. Their feet were tied so that their motion was limited to walking, their hands were tied behind them, and their heads were covered with bags preventing them from seeing. Each soldier was tied around his waist to the soldiers in front of and behind him. They were ordered to stand up and begin walking, like a human millipede, through the narrow paths of the forest. At least the rain and the hail had stopped.

The men were fearful of what lay ahead for them: a cliff, a firing squad, or prison cages not fit for human incarceration. After several hours of walking, humiliated by dirtying themselves with their own defecation and urine, hunger slowly replaced the fear in their stomachs. The Sap captives could smell each other’s stink and it was nauseating. They stopped caring about what would happen to them. They only cared that it would end, as soon as possible. They kept walking until they felt the damp coolness of night on their skins.

They were ordered to stop walking and lay down on the ground to sleep until they would be told to wake up and continue their march. The men slept deeply, like all soldiers who never know when they will be able to sleep again.

An order smashed into their sleeping brains like a sudden fright blasting their dreams of mother-love and safety to smithereens. The men were told to get up and start walking again.

Nobody knew how long he had slept, whether it was day or night. They trudged headlong to only God knew where. Some of the men cried out to their comrades or to God.

The snake-like chain of captives was ordered to run and they ran until they were silent, needing all their concentration just to keep from tripping and falling. When they had no wind in them to cry out anymore, they were ordered to walk, to devote all their concentration to where they placed their feet. They walked, they urinated, and they defecated in their already stinking pants. They did not eat or drink. They hallucinated their captors and their surroundings. Just when they thought they could not take another step, they were ordered to stop, lay down in the grass, and sleep.

The head of the chain of Sap captives, not the leader but the first in line, was Sangor, son of Javid and Dorka. His sleep was light enough so that he heard the whisper of footfall near his head. He heard a rushing swish of air come down and snapped his head away, cringing inside his gut.

“Get up and start walking,” a strange voice sub-vocalized in Sangor’s throat, choking him because he knew it was not his own voice. Nobody else heard the voice that was so loud in Sangor’s ears. He got up awkwardly and began walking blindly. He tripped over a tree root crossing his path. The dark bag over his head nearly flew off when his face hit the packed dirt hard. Blood dripped from Sangor’s nose, down his swollen upper lip, and onto his cracked tongue. He wished that he could have felt his nose to determine whether or not it was broken but his hands were still tied behind his back.

“Get up,” the voice vibrated under his jaw. Sangor choked on his spittle but got up and continued walking, more carefully this time, using his feet to feel in front of him as much as to transport him.

He asked thickly, “How much longer?”

“Shut up,” the voice jarred Sangor’s jaw. He released his bladder and his urine stung the open wounds on his leg.

“Stand still,” the voice ordered. Sangor stopped walking and stood still. He felt warmth press through the bag and touch his ear and felt a coolness breeze by his sweaty neck. He heard a pleasant but unfamiliar warbling of birdsong above him.

Sangor still tasted his own blood and smelled his own stink. Then he felt, as surely as if he could see it, a shot-blaster pointed at his back about where his heart was. The feeling burned through him, all the way to his chest. Sangor could scarcely breathe. He knew these were the last moments of his consciousness, his life. He closed his eyes and prayed silently.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 29: Fallback

Just before dawn, the last-watch guard entered the downriver commander’s tent and fired his shot-blaster into the commander’s snoring face. One of the other guards dragged the commander’s corpse through the mud to the river bank, waded in until he was chest-deep and the corpse floated in the current, and released it to float downstream.

The other men began to wake up, one by one, and tended to their personal needs. They ate in silence after which they started to move upriver and homeward.

The STU beside the downriver commander’s cot squawked in high pitched tones to the emptiness of the tent.

The upriver commander called his commanding general on his STU to report that his troops had sustained a 75% loss of personnel and materiel against superior Rat forces deployed along the river bordering the Uncharted Areas. The commander surmised that the Rats had superior technology, including the ability to control the local weather to their advantage and to use lightning as an accurate and effective weapon. He recommended to his superior officer massive reinforcements to overcome the enemy and make them rue the day they were born. The commanding general explained there were no more troops available. It would take months to draft and train them.

“Sir, in that case,” the upriver commander said to his superior, “I recommend falling back with our remaining forces to defend our home sectors from an expected Rat counter attack.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 25: Half-Twist

Lem led the robot to his home, accompanied by the rest of his group. The path they followed was convoluted and admittedly confusing even for a robot. He was not sure, but it seemed at one point the grassy path made a half-twist through one of the lesser known dimensions, just enough to cause his self-tracking log to reset and overwrite the coordinates previously recorded. The robot looked from Lem to the others to see whether they had noticed the twist in the space-time fabric, but nobody displayed any reactions out of the ordinary.

Since his log had reset, the robot had no way of gauging how long they had been walking, so he was not able to estimate how near or far his shuttle was from him.

The robot thought he’d utilize whatever time it took to get to wherever they were going, by bio-scanning the new humans to determine whether in fact they represented a new species. He ran x-ray, spectral, magnetic resonance, and low-dose computed tomography first on Lem, then on each of the men who surrounded him.

The robot noticed several differences between these humans and those he had interviewed at the tavern. The most pronounced difference was the diminished reptilian complex and limbic system in the brains of the men surrounding him. The so-called reptilian complex represented the primitive layer of the human brain and consisted of the cerebellum and the brain stem. The limbic system consisted of the amygdala and the hippocampus of the brain.

It was well known that the brain stem was responsible for the fight-or-flight response to stressful events and the amygdala was responsible for associating emotions with events.

Results of the initial predictive analysis were interesting: other factors like the cerebrum and frontal cortex being equal, an atrophied RC and LS might suggest a less primitive, less limited brain in the new species. It might be reasonable to assume that the behavior of the new species would be motivated by rational conclusions, that it would be biologically committed to rationality, as opposed to Sapiens who were limited biologically in their ability to respond rationally, and instead were motivated mostly by their emotions. Of course a short conversation with his hosts would verify that conjecture.

The robot clocked the response times on the neural pathways of his hosts. Visual processing showed 100 milliseconds as opposed to 150 ms for Sapiens. Object comparison took only 150 ms instead of 190 ms. Error correction speed was 400 ms, 70 ms faster than any Sapien. Motor response was 220 ms, 100 ms faster than the Sapien average. The results predicted that the new species was approximately 30% faster in any perceptual, cognitive, or motor activity.

Other than the differences noted above, basic genome analysis demonstrated a 99.5% similarity between Sapiens and the new species.

The group reached a ledge overlooking a valley between two mountain ranges. The sides of the mountains were pocked with glass-covered holes. Lem led the robot down a narrow path descending from the ledge down to the valley. Halfway down the path, Lem took a narrower path to the right that traversed a row of caves in the mountainside.

When he reached the third cave, Lem stopped and put his hand on the glass wall. The glass wall dissolved. The group passed through the entrance into the cave, after which the glass reformed. Lem guided the robot to a sofa and told him to make himself comfortable. The other men sat down on sofas and chairs nearby. Yani entered the room carrying a tray with fruit and tea for the men and synthetic oil for the robot.

“Thank you,” the robot nodded to Yani as he took the glass of oil from the tray. Yani nodded back and sat down next to Lem.

“Why did you land your shuttle craft here?” Lem asked the robot.

“We heard something about you from the humans in Sector 87,” the robot answered.

“Probably not very complimentary,” Lem offered.

“Certainly not very reliable,” the robot answered with an attempt at friendly humor. “We wanted to find out more about you in order to draw our own conclusions.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Yani interjected. “What do you want to know about us?”

“We were curious about the differences between your people and the others,” the robot said. “You should probably know that I scanned your biological signatures while we were walking through the forest…”

“Yes, we know,” Lem answered.

The robot was somewhat surprised. “How did you know?” he asked. “Could you feel me scanning you?”

“No, not really,” Lem answered, smiling at the other men in the group, some of whom chuckled back. “We knew you would scan us … then and there.”

The robot told Lem that some people at one of the taverns in Sector 87 had referred to the others as “Rats”. He wondered why.

Lem explained to the robot that the Homo Sapiens called them “Rats”, a pejorative term for “Rationals”, their dominant characteristic, aside from being blue-skinned. They had accepted the name, Rats, good-naturedly, and referred to the Homo Sapiens equally good-naturedly as “Saps”. Saps were rather exclusive in their concept of humanity, whereas Rats were far more inclusive. No intermarriage of Sap and Rat had ever produced offspring, although a few Rats were born of Sap parents, like Lem and Yani.

There had been a number of Rat births from Sap parents. Maybe it had to do with the cyanide compounds mined for processing gold ore in some of the sectors. Most Sap parents killed their Rat infants after child-birth. A very few, like Thort and Evanor or Kivo and Thana, let their Rat infants live and tried to raise them as Sap children. Unfortunately their Sap neighbors didn’t give that much of a chance.

It appeared that war between the two peoples was inevitable. Only one people would survive.

The robot sipped oil from his glass sadly. “Well, I really must be getting back to the ship,” the robot said, wondering whether he was Lem’s guest or captive.  “Do the Rationals have any special needs for supplies or assistance from his traders?”

Lem said there wasn’t very much the robots could do for the Rationals. “We can see where we are going and we knew what to do,” he added. “Our problems have to do with the Saps, who do not know where they are headed and certainly do not know what to do.”

Yani emerged from her sea of silence. “The Saps will never accept the Rationals, although they could use our help and they will continue to attack us, even though they do not stand a chance.”

Lem summarized, “In any event, the robots did not share our time line, except to intersect with it once every 64 years.” He did not tell the robot that the Saps only shared their time line up to a certain point.

The robot stood up and said that, if there was nothing the Rationals needed from them, there was probably nothing they had or wanted to trade off-world with the robots. Lem concurred. The robot promised to stop by just to check up on them once every 64 years, no strings attached.

Lem said somebody would always be here to welcome him.

One of the youngest members of the group accompanied the robot back to his shuttle craft. The way back to the shuttle seemed shorter than the way to the cave, but there was that funny half-twist along the way and the robot’s memory logs were reset once again.

The shuttle craft rose slowly into the clouds amidst thunder and lightning. Back at the main ship, the robot entered his cubicle and flipped on the QEB to report in to the watch officer.

“Did you find any evidence of that new species?” the WO asked.

“No,” the robot said honestly, “not a sign of them.”

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 24: Supplies

It was that time again. Sixty-four years had passed and a shuttle craft from a robot trading ship landed with thunderous reverse thrusters in Sector 87 to unload much needed supplies for the forsaken colonists.

The robot walked over to the local tavern to wait for the humans to unload the supplies they needed and to load their meager food stuffs and mined minerals. Later, after an accounting had been made of imports against exports, the sector governor would sit down at the table with the robot and renegotiate the debt. The robots trading in the Draco galaxy were running at a loss, but they seemed not to care too much about the profits and losses. They felt sadly responsible for the fate of the human colonists of Draco, so far from their home world, abandoned and forgotten. As long as they had the resources to do so, the robots would continue to give more than they received from the humans.

While sitting alone at his table the robot overheard two humans at another table talking about a new species of humans they called Rats. That struck the robot as strange as he retrieved an image of a rather unpleasant whiskered rodent associated with that name from his memory banks, since it had never been expected that it could achieve intelligence on a par with a human. Their brains were physically small and they lacked even a minimal frontal cortex. Oh well, the robot thought, it just goes to show you that anything that is possible is inevitable over a vast stretch of time.

But no – the robot listened to more snatches of the conversation at the next table. The rats they were talking about didn’t seem like any rats he had ever come across. “Excuse me,” the robot exclaimed amiably, “I couldn’t help but over-hear parts of your conversation in which you talked about rats as though they were like people…”

“They ain’t like any humans around here,” one of the men snorted. “They’re blue all over from the hair on their ugly heads to the toe nails on their ugly feet. They’re human-shaped, more-or-less, they speak our language ‘ceptin for their highfalutin words which no normal person kin understand, and they’re too quick to take a switch to.”

The other man nodded at the robot and added, “I know yer kind don’t believe in God, but them Rats is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord Almighty. He’s gonna smite them down and we’re his right fist.”

About that time the governor walked into the tavern with his accountant trailing close behind. “Ah, there you are,” the governor said jovially when he spotted the robot. The accountant pulled two chairs over to the table where the robot sat and the other two humans moved respectfully to the other side of the room.

Robots were always amazed by the human propensity for stating the obvious. “Indeed,” said the robot dryly, “here I am.”

The governor cleared his throat. “Our needs are great,” he opened stentoriously, as if speaking to his electorate, “but our resources are meager. We are at the tail end of a terrible time but things are definitely looking up. If you would be willing to carry our marker until the next time you come, we will certainly be able to pay you with a most generous interest.” Of course, by the time the robot returned, sixty-four years from that day, the good governor would be dead and the debt would be somebody else’s problem.

The robot accepted the governor’s signatures on the inventory receipt and shipping documents, and rose from the table to leave. He had a tight schedule to maintain, another seven planets to touch base before he could return home to his family. He walked back to the shuttle craft, checked underneath the thruster area to make sure no humans were hiding there, transmitted the wireless code to drop the ladder and open the shuttle hatch, and proceeded to climb up the ladder into the craft.

After checking the controls and indicators, the robot strapped himself to his seat, checked the vidcams around the thruster area one last time, and ignited the thrusters lifting off in thunder and billowing clouds. The governor and the accountant watched the craft rise slowly into the low roiling clouds until it disappeared from sight and hearing.

The shuttle entered into orbit and coasted almost to the main ship. The massive docking port doors opened silently, commanded by infrared code, and the small shuttle craft floated into the massive hull of the ship. The port doors closed shut smoothly. Since there were no humans on board, the robot did not bother to turn on the oxygen.

Back in his cluttered cubicle, the robot decided to call in over the QEB what he had overheard at the tavern to the Office of Human Affairs on his home planet. The watch officer back home suggested that the robot take the shuttle back down and scout around the other sectors and Uncharted Areas to see whether there were any signs of this new human species.

The trader robot took the shuttle back down to the surface and began to scout around in earnest, sector by sector. After combing the known sectors, he overflew what the locals called the Uncharted Areas and found signs of human habitation in the infrared range of the spectrum. The robot set the shuttle down nearby. He jumped down from the shuttle and started walking in the direction of the infrared blobs he’d noticed on the IR scope.

The silver coloured robot walked into a forest and quickly found himself surrounded by dark blue humanoids.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

 

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