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MERAIAH

By

Daniel Paul Davis





Meraiah

Copyright © 2018 danielpauldavis

Cover Art © By Lauretta Irene Davis

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business etablishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under the copyright reerved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or tranmitted in anyform or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without prior written permision of the copyright owner. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews. The scanning, uploading, and ditribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the copyright owner is illegal and punishable by law.









CHAPTER ONE



Meraiah remained prone, keeping her eyes closed, being prone to mentally check things before opening her eyes. “Don’t let others know one is awake until one can do something about it.” Consciousness ran down the body. Deep breath: if the lungs work, the suit is intact and the air supply works. Skin seems dry: no blood. No pain, either. Muscles slowly tense and relax: nothing’s broken; bruise here or there, but nothing serious. Last memory: guiding the damaged ship to land on a planet she shouldn’t land on. Someone living here probably has a name for it, but we’ve no way of knowing what that is. Heh, we probably couldn’t pronounce it if we did. Meraiah always wanted to name a planet, “Mecca-Lecka-High-Mecca-Heinie-Ho” because that’d be a grand slam: half couldn’t pronounce it and the other half wouldn’t pronounce it. They would change the name to something simpler, “Earth” maybe. Ha ha. “I feel intact and healthy.” Eyes open and Meraiah gazes intently at the beautiful, wide, blue sky. “Blue means water; where’s my ship? Okay, I’m awake” as she slowly lifted her head to find the horizon, saw land between her and there, and sat up.

She checked the water supply on her suit: adequate . . . for now. She checked the air outside: adequate . . . for now. She should be able to save her oxygen, at least, and slide the visor back. Yeah, well, there was that one time on Garth’s planet when the sensors said everything was hunky dory, but later everyone realized they were breathing aerolized mercury. Say, didn’t that happen to a Japanese city, once? Expecting to suddenly begin gasping, Meraiah slid the visor back. Nothing, not even an odor (except her sweaty suit.) She turned the oxygen off, slowly stepped around in a circle, and realized the ship was gone. “Nice trick,” she muttered, nodding. No wreckage. “I’m being played.”

“Once upon a time in a land far away. If I’m in a fairy tale, where’s the castle? But yeah, I guess I’m the maiden to be rescued.” Meraiah looked at her wrist com, nudged the setting, and turned it off. She looked around her again: “Is that hill big enough to hide a ship? The land’s not as flat as a pancake, but hasn’t any shape like an oven cake. I guess I am hungry. Oh well, tough. I don’t even know what’s edible here. The air is good; I can make a soufflé. I don’t know where I am; therefore, no one else knows where I am; therefore, I’m not being rescued. If there is a rescue, they’ll go to the ship . . . or the rescuers are being played. Rescue is only possible if I find the ship. Crap. Whoever put me here took the ship so I couldn’t be rescued, and if I find the ship, I get to be both trap and trapped. What a privilege! I will assume this planet is inhabited and that the inhabitants are hostile and cannot be trusted. Except I crash landed and am still alive. Are the inhabitants psychotic or merely capricious? This had better not be some Beauty and the Beast because the Beast is always less interesting when he finally breaks the spell.”

Meraiah crouched down and studied the ground, and slowly walked around in widening circles, staring at the ground. “Man lies under a sheet in the desert; how did he get there? They must have flown in, not walked: I don’t even see my footprints. They dropped me here, middle of nowhere, alive. Cage, zoo, or task? Scientific experiment: they’re watching my problem-solving skills. Great. If I get out alive, I’ll be giving aid to the enemy. The only way to avoid doing that is to suicide. Nice trick.” Meraiah looked up at the beautiful, blue sky . . . as if she could peek thru the 2-way mirror hiding the observers. Nothing. “Go to them? Or wait for them to come to me? Walking is doing something. Walk where? That non-hill seems the tallest thing so far; maybe it’ll give a better look-around.”

She began walking towards a goal, however self-appointed; at least getting there was self-directed. Meraiah constantly stretched her neck around to check left, right, and behind for any signs of the ones who left her back there, prone and shipless. Her searching included noticing whether anything had changed from the last time she’d looked, which meant remember everything she saw in all its detailed boredom. Meraiah began to understand all those astronaut-pilot-soldier training exercises. “He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day!” Only, sometimes “running away” isn’t on the menu, so walking away must serve. “On the other hand, if the ‘scientists’ watching me see an intelligent analysis of and solution to the puzzle, they might reconsider warring with her cohorts.” She turned around and began studying where she’d been. “And this is why I learned to walk backwards.” Only, Meraiah began to feel as if she were in a dance zone. “Maybe I can ask Frederick to work up some synthesizer music to go with this.”

Once on top of the hill, Meraiah recalled the training video Mountaintop Experience scenes: from nothing to the big reveal of the villain and almost death. She looked around. “Okay, nothing this time.” She could see somewhat farther than before, and see that no ship was currently visible. Not seeing anything change during the walk over + not seeing anything useful now meant a quandary: what now? Stay and die waiting for nothing? Meraiah remembered enough stories of bones found months or years later. “Oh, so he’s been hiding here all that time!” Alien planet. No one will find any bones. The aliens will grind them up for either research or food. “I wish I had a parasite right now. Oh, even better, the BSE prion! If I’m lucky, their warmonger-in-chief would eat me. Ah well, no way to become infected now with only alien scrubland for life-forms. I’m more likely to have edible pants than edible plants.”

Meraiah retrieved her scanner and studied the horizon with the magnification, and saw a dust cloud spiral skyward. “What, wait a minute; don’t hit send quite yet. Dust devil or alien devil?” She began lowering her profile, quickly looking for visibility cover. Finding none, she lay down again and looked again. “If ‘evolution’ is change over time, this situation is evolving. That dust cloud is nearing me and I don’t feel any wind. “ In her best Brooklyn accent, she muttered, “Oh be still my beating heart.”

After 5 more minutes, she realized it really was an approaching dust plume from a visible walker, not wind. “You realize, of course, this means war. He . . . it? Is more than an hour away. Why is he here?” Meraiah began looking at the skies as well as the horizon. “All my weapons are on my ship, of course.” This place has strangely few rocks showing. From her crouch, Meraiah began digging in the surprisingly-soft dirt for anything like a tool to use for her appointment an hour from now. Her hand felt a more solid shape, grasped it, and felt it while keeping her glove where it was. “Good thing they make these spacesuits like diamond instead of carbon.” It felt like a finger-held blade. They’re watching me; what will they do if they know I found their toy? Don’t tell them. She carefully put her right hand on her hip and left it there while she continued watching the dust cloud approach. “Weaponless alien arena,” she muttered. “What do they expect a body to do with that tiny thing?” When she thought the watchers had grown bored with her crouching there, she slipped the blade into a pocket. All the training videos end with weapons of some kind littering the arena area. Her favorite was that archaic training video where the protagonist builds a cannon. “But, dang it all, I left my chemistry set back on the ship.”

She later casually glanced at her glove: uncut. “I will assume this artifact is sharp.” First rule of arenas: surprise the audience. They love that.” Meraiah sipped some water, casually closing the pocket cover over the blade while storing the water. Then she looked up for her appointment and saw the small cloud of dust was still approaching, maybe half an hour away, meaning she’s now visible, so she stayed down, bemoaning how all space suits are, “Hey, Hey! Over here!” white for the real rescuers. “Not for this guy, whatever he’s here for. Or it is here for. She? Heh, possible. Even if it’s a plant like in that training video set in Antarctica, it’d be male or female. But all animals are ‘it’ because we don’t want to be bothered finding out which. And some are very angry if you try.”

Meraiah suddenly realized the geometry of her situation. She looked over at where she was an hour ago. “That alien is approaching where I am, not where I was. Yep. I’m being watched. They told him where to go. Dang.” Meraiah rolled over on her back, slowly moved her right arm out, lifted her forearm, and waved her right hand at the sky, smiling broadly. Then she scowled, rolled back over, and checked on his progress. Male it is, then. “He’d be hilarious if he walked around this promontory and kept going. Meet him or try to keep hidden? I could slowly back down the slope and learn whether he really knows I’m here or whether this is all a coincidence. Yeah. Do that.” She also thought of how many training videos she had seen in which the whole story hinged on the two characters meeting. “But I don’t expect this story to have a happy ending, so I don’t want the meeting.

“He’s not going around.” Meraiah began to edge away down the other side, looking for the thing’s eyes to know whether the retreating crab in this scene was seen. He walked up towards where she was, stood on what must be legs, looked around, and continued walking down the hill. “Oblivious or stupid? Did that thing really look around and not see me? And was that a space suit it wore?” Maraiah slowly crawled back up the rise to look at the receding being, then looked up, then around for others. Nada. She watched him walk away down the hill and past where she came to, checking, watching, stopping.

The alien also looked around, as if it really were out here for an appointment and had missed the address. He even looked up, then returned to looking all around for something. Meraiah studied him and realized that while she was looking around in case someone else was here, this guy seemed to know someone is here and is looking for HER. Oops. How does one dodge a bullet when they keep fixing their aim?

Meraiah watched him re-approach while hashing out options. Hide? He’ll look more carefully. Since we will meet, meet him standing and ready. Stand and wait? Or stand and speak? Keep the blade where it is. If he has anything like what’s on my ship, I won’t get an opportunity to use the blade, anyway. “It’s a pity I never practiced knife throwing. Circus acts never interested me. Circus acts. They’re watching. What if this is their circus? Ai yai yai. And they call humans uncivilized. Circus acts. I wonder whether their bread is free, too.“

Meraiah stood up, placed her feet apart, folded her arms behind her back, and waited at parade rest for him to approach. The moment she stood up, he lifted his head, stopped, his face brightened, and he hurried up to her. “Let him make the first move to reveal his fighting style. Be ready to dodge left or right, but wait for it. If he’s faster than you are, there’s no point in trying. Wow, he’s really hustling uphill. Ah, there it is: slower steps, faster breathing. Sacre vache! That guy is out of shape! Or is he faking. That’s why you always choose black for chess; make the opponent reveal his mind, first. What was that training video, overweight, always out of breath, but beat the snot out of everyone? He’s not overweight. Well, not for a human, anyway. No way to know what an average alien weight is. Heh, what if aliens put on weight with height, not depth?” An unconscious smile formed on her mouth. He stopped, saw that smile, and brightened more. “Dang. I encouraged the enemy and forced this meeting.”

Mr. Unknown Alien stepped up to Meraiah and extended something towards her while she continued staring into what she was assuming to be a face, watching for what she was assuming were eyes to look where he was next going, trying to read his mind or predict her future. She saw him extend something at her, but it approached slowly, unthreatening, so she did not flinch. She was holding her pose, every muscle ready to spring. He held the thing out to her, and after five seconds, she realized he meant her to take it. She looked down. Food rations from her ship. “Dang, they’re good.”

Meraiah relaxed slightly, moved her hands to her side, reached her right hand to his something and took it from his hand. Arm? Tentacle? Pod? “Thank you.” She said to him. She then unwrapped it and took a bite. He stood there. She broke off a piece. “Do you want some?” He stood there. She held the piece of food ration out to him like he held it out to her. He stared at her, standing, doing nothing else but standing. “Well, um, okay.” She put the piece in her mouth. “Or is he waiting for me to eat the drugs they doctored this with? I’ve really no choice, here.” She finished eating and put the wrapper in a different pocket than where the blade was, looked at him, and felt sorry for him still standing there watching her eat. She held her hand out to him again, and since he didn’t move, she took his hand with hers and shook it, saying, “Meraiah.” He finally moved his eyes, looking down at their hands, hers grasping his. She let go. His hand returned to where it was, limp, by his side.

Okay, he’s not here to attack me. This isn’t an arena. Or it is, and they have the idea of giving the contestant a sporting chance and this guy is not the opponent. He’s only the water boy. “Il y en a plus? Hay mas? Is there more?” she said, looking at him. “How many languages on earth? Why should I expect him to know those three? He most likely knows none of them.” Meraiah took his hand again, saying, “Meraiah.” She could not tell whether his “expression” changed, so she moved his hand to point at her. “Meraiah.” She then flattened her palm, letting his drop back to its own parade rest, and pointed at the middle of his body. Nothing. She pointed again. Okay, now what? This isn’t a robot, is it? What is an alien programmed to do?

He suddenly put one of what he was standing on behind himself and pivoted 180˚ to begin walking back down the hill. Meraiah briefly hesitated, then followed. “I shouldn’t let this food truck out of my sight.” Instead, she asked, “Where are we going?” He kept walking, instead. Eventually, he stopped after about 3 kilometers. Why here? “This place looks no different from where I came to.” Meraiah walked a spiral around and away from her new guide, and quickly found a spring gently oozing from the ground and flowing away from her. “Yes, but is it safe?” Meraiah retrieved her water purification, added one to her reservoirs, and filled them. “Nasty flavor, here we come.” Finished, she walked back over to him and said, “Thank you for that. I’m done, now. We can go.” He didn’t move. Meraiah sang a line from classical music: “Darling you got to let me know; Should I stay or should I go?” He did; he didn’t. I have food and water. I can’t go anywhere. He’s my prison guard. That’s just great. Or he’s my assassin waiting until I’m asleep because why bother. Meraiah returned to the spring and followed it away from him until she found where it pooled. There, she removed her suit, washed her clothes, washed her skin as much as she could, and re-dressed her sweaty grievance. This pilot’s suit will always smell like me, which is just as well since I’ll probably die in it. Will they roast or bury me? Heh, I won’t be around when they choose, so I don’t care. Rumor has it I’ll get a different one and keep going.

“Hey,” she called. “Do you guys believe in life after death?” Musing to herself, “I wonder whether that was worth a try. Nope. Odds are my English is dog barking, to them. What did the alpha male dog say to another pack member. ‘Get your butt over here; I want to sniff it.’ R.H.I.P.” What was it that instructor always said? “If you don’t have a craft, you can’t take the fight to the enemy.” “If you don’t know hand-to-hand, you can’t take the enemy to the fight.” “You can’t give what you don’t have.” If he can’t speak to me, I need to give that to him.

Meraiah went to him, grabbed his hand, and bumped herself with it. “Meraiah.” Bump. “Meraiah.” Bump. “Meraiah.” She dropped his hand and waited for student performance of the lesson. Nothing. She picked up his hand, put her hand around the outside, and folded it onto her suit. “Pilot suit.” Squeeze. “Spacesuit.” Squeeze. “Spacesuit.” Squeeze. She dropped his hand and waited. Nothing. She walked to the spring and cupped her hands around some water and walked back to him carefully. “Water. Water.” Nothing. She lifter her cupped hands to over his head and let the water run down his head. “Water.” “And why do I feel like an idiot? I didn’t even get sparks from the guy.” She pulled his whatever up and held it at mid-level, keeping him from putting it back by his side. With him finally holding it where she wanted it, she put her hands flat and pushed the air slightly, then ran to get more water. When she returned, his whatever-it-is was still held out, and she poured the water over it. “Water.”





CHAPTER TWO



Low-level Colonizing and Settlement functionary Gustavo Rodriguez had collected his inbox mail + messages, and walked to his desk, where he plopped them in their stack, stared at them, then sat down. Getting the distasteful out of the way first, he reached into the middle of the stack and picked out the memo written . . . only yesterday? “This thing is fresh!” he thought.

“Regarding certain projects, our Independently Functioning Principal acknowledges the value of other systems amid the necessity for specification evolution over any given time period. Notably, the methodical input of effective information clarifies explicit performance limits to structural design when based on systems engineering models. Conversely, the primary interconnectivity between system and subsystem hardware and software mandates thorough systems analysis with the dissemination of studies in order to arrive at the initial qualification limit.”

“I think they’re telling me to make sure all the parts fit together . . . if I ever make any parts, I’ll be sure to remember their advice. Nice of them to warn me, tho.”

Low-level Colonizing and Settlement functionary Gustavo Rodriguez then picked thru his mail, top to bottom, stopping at the one other item worth studying: “Dear Sir, I am unsure whether you are the right department, but I will ask anyway. I wish to be on the next colony ship. I have my own tools and will be able to use whatever tools you provide. I can repair small motors to large engines, electrical, diesel, compressive, and even internal combustion. Please use the enclosed self-addressed, stamped envelope to inform me whether I have the correct department or must speak with someone else.”

“You have the right department,” Low-level Colonizing and Settlement functionary Gustavo Rodriguez muttered, as the stamped envelope fell out of the mailed envelope. “Heh, I didn’t realize stamps were $5.00 now.” He then obtained the Book of Standards & Qualifications to check whether this potential applicant qualified and whether the next transport had a stasis chamber for the qualified person.

Sotto voce, “Speaking of qualified person,” then audibly, “Well, howdy, fellow Low-level Colonizing and Settlement functionary Miss Stephanie Zain.” Returning to his quieter self-speak, “I can tell she likes me; she merely does not yet know how to express her real feelings.”

“Dude,” said Low-level Colonizing and Settlement functionary Trevor Gonzaga, “Her real feelings is she wants to report you to the boss for harassment but you never do anything she can report.”

“That’s how we know she is important.”

“Why the book?”

“Someone wants on the next transport.”

“I think half the population wants on the next transport.”

“Having officially defined our job, here.”

“So what makes this guy special?”

“Engine repair.”

“Could be useful. Which one?”

“He says all of them, even internal combustion.”

“What’s that?”

“Exactly. They come across technologically backward aliens, that could be useful.”

“I thought all aliens flew hollowed-out logs that have rocks for wheels.”

“You’ve confusing them with cavemen.”

“Same thing. So do yourself a favor and forget about Miss Zain.”

“Forget who?”

“Exactly.”

“So, here, read this guy’s letter. Tell me what you think.”

“The electrical will be most useful. Unpleasantly for him, it’s so useful that we have a number of those already booked on the transport. Diesel? I remember that. I’ll tell you the one, big problem with this guy, Gustavo: he works on antiques. Pretty much any transport is going to where we already have a moonbase and construction crews work in space suits operating electrical-powered equipment. I will simply assume that this ‘internal combustion engine’ requires an atmosphere like I know diesel does, and there never is one when crews are constructing something. He really has no idea what’s involved in colonizing.”

“Good point. Thank you. I guess I can check whether there is room because if there isn’t, that’s a friendlier ‘No’ than saying there are no antiques in outer space.”

Low-level Colonizing and Settlement functionary Gustavo Rodriguez found the registered-on-the-next-transport-so-far book and checked its capacity, which turned out to be twenty-three more daring souls willing to throw the dice on being confined for a few years on the off-chance that what they arrive at will be better than what they have now, a level of gambling Mr. Rodriguez did not understand. He put the letter in the “later” pile and continued thru the mail to another letter. “Dear Sir or Ma’am, I ask you to enroll me on the next colony ship. I can pay for my own ticket.”

“Wow,” thought Low-level Colonizing and Settlement functionary Gustavo Rodriguez. “That’s some desperate to leave.” Each time he got one of these, Low-level Colonizing and Settlement functionary Gustavo Rodriguez was tempted to write a preaching reply: “Wherever you go, there you are. If you don’t like it, change the you, not the where.” His job had guidelines specifically prohibiting that. Apparently, also more friendly is to write a blunt, “No.” He checked the book again, and found the page listing preferred skills. “’Military experience’” because they’re using vaporizers to dig tunnels. ‘Underwater experience’ because that’s most like weightlessness. ‘Construction’ because that is what they do; preference for those experienced using those humongous electric-powered tractors, lifters, and other erector sets. None of these things in the letter. Yeah, write the ‘No’ later.”





CHAPTER THREE



The classroom of pilots watched Kurt Russell surf the tsunami down the canyon into Los Angeles, land in the back of a car, and speed away while interrogating the driver. The scene ended, the movie stopped, and the lights returned to on. “The rescuer meeting someone who knows something isn’t the point here, tho I will add that your job will include being attentive to when fortuitous coincidences do occur. Our lesson here is the rescuer’s insertion into the situation. You will need the skills and dexterity to handle naturally-occurring forces to your advantage. You might have to jerry-rig a structure to do that. You are expected to be well enough trained to find available materials for that task, even if they are local flora . . . or fauna. If you need to shoot a tiger to get bones for your baseball bat, whatever.

“Your insertion onto this inhabited planet will be somewhat more controlled than surfing a tsunami, which trained surfers do easily enough.“

“Will there be any car jumping?”

“Acquire and use whatever transportation is available, up to and including the downed pilot’s craft, which you should readily find.”

“Or, at least, the transponder.”

“We’ll hope more remains than that. If not, you will then signal for retrieval. You are a rescue squad, not a burial detail.”

“Speaking of cremation, would the downed pilot have anything that we should destroy if we find it?”

“Good question. Wait.” The teacher turned to research the answer. He looked up after a few minutes. “The pilot should be armed with the standard laser weapon and the craft would have the standard weaponry. Use both, return with both, or destroy what you cannot bring back. We don’t want the enemy knowing how we’re killing them.

“Too late!”

“What do you mean by that?”

“We already are killing them. I think their corpses will tell them how.”

“Your point is well seen, but that’s the answer to your question and our rules.”

“Besides, we don’t want them knowing how we vaporize them. We don’t want to give them any ideas. Your job is to find that needle in the right haystack.”

“We’ll have a magnet?”

“Focused on Pilot Blanchard’s craft’s SOS transponder. And definitely don’t commit the mistake in that Predator training video and leave advanced weaponry behind for the newbie civilization to develop on their own.”

“Can we leave behind bombs to explode on touch?”

“Whatever carries your craft, but don’t let your hobby delay your task. Any other questions?”

“What’s our maximum time at this task?”

“Good question. 24 hours. After that, be buried or eaten.”

Students singing in unison, “Hello mudder, hello fodder.”



CHAPTER FOUR



“Wa er.”

“Leaving out the consonant. That’s fine. Other languages have sounds that aren’t in English. I’m not about to open a language school, here.” Looking up at her student, Meraiah nodded, “Good. Water.” Meraiah tried to emphasize the ‘t’.

“Wa er.”

“Knock yourself out, you won’t,” Meraiah muttered. “What’s next? Oh, I know.” She looked up at her student, holding up a finger. “One.” She added a finger. “Two.” She added another finger. “Three.” Meraiah continued to ten. Then started over, pausing: “One.” Nothing. “One. Two.” Nothing. Okay. She slowly stretched her hand towards his, gently picked it up, and formed it so that all but one “digit” (she wasn’t really sure what they were) protruded. “One.” Then held up her finger. “One.” Something in his expression changed into what might have looked like comprehension to someone who’d been doing this longer than Meraiah, someone who had one decade instead of one hour at teaching instead of learning. Going with it, she gently peeled another “digit” up and “Two.” Another and, “Three.” Another and, “Four.” She reached for the other “hand” and the student held it out to her, “digit” extended. Meraiah nodded, “Five.” Another went up. “Six.” The third and “Seven.” The fourth and last, “Eight.”

Meraiah’s student then picked up her hand, extending a finger, with, “Ok.” Pulling another finger up, “Bo.” Pulling up a third finger, “Lae.” The fourth finger with, “Du” and the fifth finger with, “Saek.” Her student then picked up her other hand, pulled out a finger, and, “Gai.” With the next finger, “Mu.” At her third finger, “Yang.” Then her student extended the fourth finger on her second hand and said, “Yang Ok.” With Meraiah’s last finger, “Yang Bo.”

Meraiah muttered, “We have ten fingers, so we count in base 10. He has eight fingers so he counts in base 8. Okay.” Looking up at her student, she tried, one finger at a time, “Ok, Bo, Lae, Do.”

“Du.”

“Sorry. Ok, Bo, Lae, Du, Saek, Gai, Nu.”

“Mu.”

She nodded. “Ok, Bo, Lae, Du, Saek, Gai, Mu, Yang.” She paused. Holding up her ninth finger, “Ok Yang. No, wait. Yang Ok, Yang Bo.” She waited. “Maybe that’s a smile,” she thought, adding, “Starting with a number system in base 8 instead of base 10 would greatly simplify early knowing how to program computers. What else are they better at?” Meraiah realized she had seen only one training video about education, and the gist of it was that the teacher couldn’t teach because the students didn’t want to learn. Then that changed, somehow. “Yeah, the alien finally figured out what you’re trying to do.”

Meraiah’s mind searched for something else to teach this alien native, realizing that her student did much better when the hands were involved than with mere listening. And then she remembered her suit’s pockets contained stranded-on-an-alien-planet supplies, reached around to a pocket, and extracted a deck of cards. She removed them from their case, showed them, shuffled them, showed them again, shuffled them twice more, and then dealt half to her student, half to her, one at a time. Then she mimed slowly picking up the top card on her deck, laid it face up, and said “Three.” She held up 3 fingers. Her student copied her, laid the card down, she turned it over, and said, “Five.” She held up 5 fingers. “Five” (5 fingers) “is more than three (3 fingers), “so you win.” She picked up the two cards and put them next to her student’s pile of cards.

And her student caught on well enough, rehearsing English words for numbers while Meraiah rehearsed her student’s alien words for numbers. And her student won after about 2 hours, not counting food and water break. And while she was occupying those would-have-been-very-boring 2 hours playing cards and rehearsing an alien number system, Meraiah mused on all of her intensive weapons and combat training and the most valuable tidbit of knowledge she had from that so far was a game she learned to play to pass the otherwise-would-have-been-boring downtime. She remembered a whole one teacher who told her, “Learn everything, so that whatever happens, you at least have something to deal with it.”

She also remembered that movie about the pilot stranded on an alien planet with his alien enemy, becoming friends. Best training we ever got was those old training videos showing what’s possible.





CHAPTER FIVE



The craft’s pilot followed approach pattern 23, dodging asteroids and damaged-ship debris. The craft’s computer had already locked on the command-designated target, and the pilot angled for a clear deploy. Then the pilot panicked as the target disappeared from both the computer screen and his own outside view screen. “It was there 10 seconds ago, I duck around an asteroid, come up around, and it’s gone. Where?” The pilot swung his craft in an arc, scanning for a mistake he’d made, while his left hand directed the computer to find the target. Towards the end of his 360° arc, he saw it at the same time the computer chimed a target-lock. He veered towards it, weapons re-armed, clear shot available. His communications flooded his ears with reports from the other pilots reporting their amazing, disappearing targets.

Cutting thru the dismayed radio chatter, every pilot heard the command to return to base. Each pilot swung a 180° arc and veered towards home, most likely for a debriefing and psychological testing complete with EEG monitoring for the rest of the week, which was just as well because each pilot’s craft would be unusable while the innards were thoroughly inspected. The pilot muttered to himself while zipping back, “It was like that old joke about Barian Judo: ‘Ju don’t know whether I have a knife; ju don’t know whether I have a gun. Ju don’t know where I am.”



Pilot Anderson and Guard Martin met in their barracks during lunch because it was unoccupied. Their voices were hushed in spite of being alone.

“We’re down one pilot who probably would have not supported us, anyway.” Pilot Anderson began.

“Likely would have opposed us.”

“Point taken. This leaves us close to a majority of the pilots.”

“But most don’t yet fly,” Guard Martin objected. “They’re still students.”

“We’re all students while they check over each craft again.”

“You know what I meant.”

“Yes. It’s irrelevant what they are. They will be pilots and will be promoted. Our work here looks to be going well.”

“We’re still stuck dealing with Commodore Holguin.”

“Whether king, president, or commanding officer, dealing with the one at the top is never that difficult. It only seems difficult because he seems to have all that power. All we must do is change who obeys him.”

“But right now we haven’t a choice.”

“No we haven’t a choice. True. But we have a very good plan that cannot fail.”

“Do I get to know what it is?”

“Not yet. You get to know that it does involve Tau Ceti 3.”

“Nuke or gas?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I hear rumors. Of all the rumors,” Guard Martin noted, “Those sound the most likely.”

“Heh, I’d be a fan of both. Nuke the cities, gas the survivors.”

“So we don’t plan to ever want to use Tau Ceti 3?”

“If we do, we merely construct another base like Moonbase Epsilon. We don’t need to go outside.”

“So we’re cavemen.”





CHAPTER SIX



The pilots exited Moon Base Epsilon, each following the craft’s pre-programmed course to cover the area of space where Meraiah’s craft could be. The programming accounted for both fuel capacity and drift. Each craft’s radio listened for her craft’s SOS transponder, immediately upon exiting the moon base orbiting Tau Ceti’s 2nd planet. Each craft zipped along its course, the pilot alternately checking the slowly-changing scene and checking instruments.

“This will be like searching Gotham for the Wild Card.”

“The character’s name is ‘Joker,’ Mr. Pilot.”

“Oh yeah.”

“Besides, we’re looking for the good guy, not the bad guy.”

“Good gal.”

“Yeah, whatever; you know what I meant.”

“Can the bad guy be a good guy?”

“Only in your head.”

“I have a blip.”

“So do I. Uh, give me the coordinates of your blip. Uh, pilot, those are not the coordinates for my blip. Check your data.”

“Did and done. They’re accurate.”

“How many of you other pilots read the report on Operation Gobsmack?”

“I haven’t had time. I was studying for this operation.”

“Anyone else within range of my radio communication do the homework? I’ll take that static as a ‘No.’ It was an offensive maneuver, but when the pilots were within range of the target, their scanners failed and they couldn’t get a weapons-lock any of the assigned the targets.”

“So you think they’re hacking our equipment?”

“Who else has picked up our pilot’s transponder?” Four other pilots responded. “That’s six. Epsilon, this is Pilot Jacobs, over.”

“Radio silence, Pilot Jacobs, until you have the transponder signal.”

“Six of us have a transponder signal, Base Epsilon. In six different locations.”

“Return to base.”



CHAPTER SEVEN



Tau Ceti’s 3rd planet’s haze added to the Tau Ceti system dust to further dim the slightly smaller star’s slightly dimmer light. A few weeds struggled in the open field where Tau Ceti natives operated equipment to patiently assemble a warehouse-sized building. Tau Ceti planetary government functionary Sesran proceeded down the installed-yesterday ramp to the front door and entered the unfinished building. Inside, workers installed walls, ceiling panels, and flooring. He turned left at the tenth pillar and walked to a door, laid one of his four fingers on a panel, and waited for the door to open. When he entered, everyone else in the room looked up, stood up, and ducked. Then they sat down and went back to their work. Sesran looked around, found Tseram, called him over, and began conversing.

[“Tell me.”]

[“She and the Earthi appear to be learning each other’s number system.”]

[“So the rumors are true.”]

[“What rumors?”]

[“You haven’t heard?”]

[“They don’t let us out much.”]

[“Sorry. Scrape that comment. We put her and the Earthi in Sun Two so the Earthi would do our work for us. We even gave her stuff to bribe the Earthi to do our work for us. And the Earthi is refusing to do that one job we sent the Earthi to do.”]

[“I’m sorry, Sesran.”]

[“You are not the one to apologize, Tseram, the Earthi is. Tell me, Tseram, do you believe the Earthi and her have become . . . companions?”]

[“The Earthi had a game and has taught it to her, so yes, I do.”]

[“Why is our enemy behaving that way?”]

[“I can’t answer that, Sesran, only make guesses, which you don’t want.”]

[“I will hear your guesses, Tseram. This whole thing is crazy because of crazy Earthis.”]

[“Well, Sesran, my first guess is that Earthis are crazy, so we cannot really predict what Earthis will do. Only guess. I know you hate that.”]

[“Tseram, if that statement is correct, this whole program is shut down.”]

[“Yes, Sesran. My second guess is that we sent her to to meet the Earthi and let the Earthi do what we expected the Earthi to do. But let us ponder why we sent her there. Isn’t she as crazy as the Earthi, only in a different way?”]

[“Wait, what? Tseram, different crazies? That’s crazy.”]

[“Exactly, sir. Is every Tau Ceti unique?”]

[“Uh, genetically, yes. That’s necessary.”]

[“And genetics determines us.”]

[“Obviously.”]

[“She is a little different from us, so she is there, not here. She is crazy. But ponder: we should not expect her to be crazy like an Earthi is crazy because Earthi genetics must be very different.”]

[“I dislike your conclusion, Tseram, but your thinking is inarguable. You’re scaring me, Tseram.”]

[“Now I know what I’ll be for Feast Day. If this scares Sesran, it’ll scare anyone.”]

[“Nope. Good idea, Tseram, but this knowledge does not leave this building.”]

[“Shazz.”]

[“With your inarguable thinking, Tseram, do you have a suggestion?”]

[“We expected a fight. We have peace. What if we forced the Earthi to fight?”]

[“Do you mean to force her to attack the Earthi?”]

[“I don’t think we can. But I think we can bring the Earthi to see her as an enemy, not a companion.”]

A worker opened the door to the room where Tseram and Sesran conversed. Sesran turned to it and said, [“Leave.”] The worker quickly exited.

Turning back to Tseram, [“How?”]

[“I’m unsure whether looking different will mean much anymore, but maybe looking the same might.”]

[“Explain that.”]

[“What if another of us, who looks like her, attacked the Earthi. In the confusion of a fight, maybe the Earthi would attack her instead of the attacker.”]

[“What if the Earthi kills the attacker?”]

[“Do we know how to fight?”]

[“I see your point. I like your ideas. Go back to work. I’ll talk to those above me.”]





CHAPTER EIGHT



Meraiah sat across from her student/teacher, holding five playing cards: spades ace, hearts king, spades queen, club jack, spades ten. She pushed a rock from the pile in front of her into the pile between them. Her student/teacher studied her, looked again at the cards clumsily held in a hand/arm/pod, and nudged a larger rock into the pile between them. Meraiah tried to not show the surprise she felt, tho she was unsure her student/teacher would know what her facial expressions even meant. She said, “Call” and pushed a small rock from her pile into the center pile. Then she laid down her cards: a high straight. Her student/teacher laid down her cards: heart two, heart jack, heart seven, heart five, heart ten.

“Flush beats straight,” Meraiah muttered. “You win. I fold.” Her teacher/student gathered the rocks from the center into her pile, which was sufficiently larger than Meraiah’s pile to be embarrassing. She had seen poker in enough training videos to know it is commonly used in officer training. “So I’ll never be promoted.” She mused to herself. “Now, my deal.” Meraiah said to her guard. “I will probably lose all my rocks on this one, but why not. Seven card stud. Uh,” Meraiah pointed slightly left, “That was saek cards.” She held up the deck. “Now, Mu cards: Lae, Ok, Ok, Ok, Ok. Ante.” Meraiah pushed a rock into the middle between them. Her student/teacher did the same. “Lae cards.” She dealt a face down across, a face down to herself, a face down across, a face down to herself, a face up across, and a face up to herself. “Yes, I see ok card for you.” Meraiah pointed at her student/teacher. “And you see ok card for me,” pointing at herself. “I do NOT see bo cards for you,” she said, pointing at her student/teacher, “And you do NOT see bo cards for me,” pointing at her two face-down cards. She looked at her face-up spade jack, looked at the face-up heart king across from her, then looked at her face-down club jack and three heart. Her student/teacher likewise looked at her cards. Meraiah held out her open hand to her student/teacher, who then pushed a rock into center. Meraiah matched the bet, and placed one more card face up across from her, a club king, and a face-up card on her own spade jack, a club three. Meraiah pointed two fingers at her student/teacher’s two face-up cards, saying, “Bo cards, ok king ok king: pair. Ok pair.” She held her hand to her student/teacher to bet, who then pushed two rocks into the middle. Meraiah matched her bet and dealt again, and dealt the third face-up cards, placing a heart seven across from her and a diamond eight on her club three. “Ok pair bets.” Her student pushed three rocks into the center pile. “Student knows when outbidding the teacher can win the game,” Meraiah muttered to herself. She dealt the fourth and last face-up cards, a spade six across from her and a club ace on her diamond eight. “Ok pair bets.” Her student/teacher pushed five rocks into the center pile and Meraiah matched her bet. Grudgingly. Meraiah then dealt the last time. “Mu card.” She put one card face down on her student/teacher’s spade six, and one card face down on her club spade. “Mu cards.” She held up her left hand, keeping the deck in her right hand, spread her fingers. “Your hand is saek cards.” She pointed at her open eyes. “I see du cards.” She pointed at her closed eyes. “I do NOT see lae cards.” Meraiah opened her eyes and picked up all seven of her cards, kept the two threes, the two jacks, and the ace. She put the eight and queen, face down, back on the ground. She watched her student teacher pick up her seven cards and caught the seven and six going back to the ground, face down.

“Uh oh. Uh, last bet. She pushed all of her remaining rocks into the center pile. Her student/teacher counted them, and pushed the same number from her pile into the center, and paused. Meraiah nodded, laid down her cards to show them, and said, “Bo pair.”

Her teacher/student laid down five cards: diamond ace, spade ace, heart ace and spade king to go with her club king. “Ok bo. Ok lae.”

Meraiah sighed, held up her hands, and then clapped them as her teacher/student collected all the rocks. She then looked down at the cards in front of her, collected them, shuffled them, and took her teacher/student’s . . . pod in her hand, and put the deck of cards in it with, “You win.” “That’s definitely a smile,” thought Meraiah. “Well-earned. If they’re all like this, it’s no wonder I’m stuck here on a barren rock without my craft. Ah well, it’s not a P.O.W. camp, and it’s not a prison. And hey, even the guard is friendly.”

Meraiah looked at her teacher/student. “Sleep?” She closed her eyes. “Or,” opening them, “eat?” She opened her mouth. Then closed it. Her teacher/student found another meal ration from her craft and gave it to her. “Oh, wow, thank you. Do you eat?” She opened the package and offered some to her teacher/student, who stared back at her. “No? Okay. She ate the bar while trying to think of what to do next, what to teach next, how to now occupy the time stuck here with this smarter-than-it-looks stranger.

Her Teacher/student made no move to either answer or choose differently, so Meraiah stretched her body out, still wearing the flight suit + helmet, to rest and think. She went over the events since she was conscious after the crash, and determined that she’d taken the best possible choice each time. An enemy pilot on a deadly mission in enemy territory, yet at no time since she came to had she ever been threatened. This will be crucial for the obvious dereliction-of-duty trial her superior officers would drag her thru. And that’s fine. She realized she was doing what none had done before. Lacking precedent, her superior officers always defaulted to what they’d always done, letting some officer above them decide to take the hit for changing protocol. “If I ever fly back home, it’ll be the last time I fly in a long time.”

“And now, the end is near / And so I face the final curtain / My friend, I'll say it clear / I'll state my case, of which I'm certain / I've lived a life that's full / I've traveled each and every highway / But more, much more than this / I did it my way.”

“What’s a ‘curtain’? Is that like a ‘Flight envelope’? Did singers have Flight Envelopes?”

___________________________________♪_______♪____________________________

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ᴥ_____♪______________♪________________♪_______♪____♪__________♪♪♪♪♪♪♪♪♪__

__♪______________♫____________________♪_______♪_________♪_______________

♫_________________________♪♪♪__________♪_______♪________________________



Meraiah sat up and stared at the singer across from her. What she’d heard reminded her of her favorite musician . . . and she had a crazy idea.

_______________________________________♪_______♪____________________________

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ᴥ________♪______________ ♪________________♪_______♪____♪__________♪♪♪♪♪♪♪♪♪__

_____♪______________♫_____________________♪_______♪_________♪_______________

♫____________________________♪♪♪__________♪_______♪________________________

ok ok bo lae saaaek gai gai mu yang yang ok okbolaedusaek okbolaedusaek gai mu yang yang bo-o-o



Meraiah’s Teacher/student began to twitter, almost as if the result was a spontaneous, uncontrollable physical reaction. Meraiah noticed where the lungs were on the alien body when she saw which part was spasming. Then,

_______________________________________♪_______♪____________________________

___________♪♪♪♪♪___________♪____________♪_______♪________♪__________________

ᴥ________♪______________ ♪________________♪_______♪____♪__________♪♪♪♪♪♪♪♪♪__

_____♪______________♫_____________________♪_______♪_________♪_______________

♫____________________________♪♪♪__________♪_______♪________________________

ok ok bo lae saaaek gai gai mu yang yang ok okbolaedusaek okbolaedusaek gai mu yang yang bo-o-o



And then her Teacher/student fell back on the ground, twittering even louder, obvious lungs now heaving uncontrollably, while between spasms, Meraiah heard “Ok ok bo lae saaaaaek.” And then it would start over.

“My Deity-Of-Choice,” muttered Meraiah, “I think I told a joke to an alien. This is crazy. Of course they won’t believe me. Of course I made all this up to be some hero so I wouldn’t be discharged. I’ll be lucky if it’s honorable. Oh, uh. Get the priest here to bless the fecal matter. What if I just told a dirty joke? Yeah, we spend much downtime making up sexual lyrics to fit popular melodies. I was only practicing the numbers, but that melody must mean something.”

Meraiah stood up suddenly and looked around, scanning the horizon, muttering, “And if it means something here, it must mean something to those watching . . . and I have probably insulted them. Heh, we’re already at war, but, well, no more ration packs from my ship. Whoever this one is, the next one will probably want to kill me for insulting their honor. Oh, for a thermal bomb. Tactical nuke would serve well, too.” She continued scanning the horizon, slowly spinning in a circle, left foot pivoting 45°, right foot sliding next to it, always maintaining balance while looking elsewhere, listening carefully. Except all Meraiah could hear was her Teacher/student still twittering, occasionally repeating “Ok ok bo lae saaaaek.” If someone snuck up on her, he’d need to be louder than alien laughter for her to hear. Heh, at least aliens don’t laugh as loud as Jacobs.

Meraiah froze. She felt a hand on her shoulder. She slowly lowered her scanner, then heard a I gasp. She slowly moved her eyes to her right, and slowly pivoted her neck to look behind her, and saw her Teacher/student standing behind her, pod/hand/what-be-it on her shoulder, head bowed. She’d stopped twittering and was “breathing” normally, whatever that was. Then her Teacher/student slowly lowered her head and put it on her shoulder.

“Great. Just great. I made a friend of the enemy alien, who is now using physical proximity for . . . affection? No, they won’t believe me. But the accusations I’ll hear. I need to start working up the story I’ll tell them if I do get off this rock. Nah, I don’t think this alien would come back to moonbase with me. This alien seems very uninterested in what passes for food there and would starve. Nope. No proof, no story.

“No craft. The current probability is that I’ll die on this rock and never see the Moonbase again, or my superior officers. They’ll send out a rescue squad, who will find my craft, where I am not . . .. I need to convince whoever put me here to be sufficiently irritated with me that they want me out of their sight, but not so irritated that they kill me.

“Years of training in how to piss off an alien, and nothing on how to merely irritate an alien. No training video ever thought irritating an alien would be a useful skill, probably because irritating we can live with. WE are trained to handle those we cannot live with. So how can I irritate an alien? How does anyone irritate anyone? How do I rub ‘em the wrong way?

“Hey, wait a minute.” Meraiah reached her hand up to the alien’s pod/hand/arm on her shoulder and stroked it away from the body. Her Teacher/student twittered. Meraiah stroked the pod/hand/arm towards the body and her Teacher/student twittered. “I am assuming that noise is a positive emotion, and if I’m wrong, this experiment is learning the wrong thing.” Meraiah stroked her Teacher/student’s pod/hand/arm right laterally, then left laterally, the strokee continuing to twitter. “So the sensitive area is elsewhere.” She applied the same variations to stroking her Teacher/student’s side opposite what had always been presented her, the left and right sides under the hands/pods/arms, and lastly the front, where a gentle diagonal stroke stopped the twittering. “Time to prove one’s findings,” Meraiah thought. She stroked diagonally again and her Teacher/student emitted a noise even the human recognized as pain. Meraiah raised her hand again and saw fear on the face of her enemy for the first time. “But she was going to let me do that a third time, even as it hurt badly.” Meraiah raised both of her hands and stepped away, bowing slightly. She sat and muttered, “Ok, Bo, Lae, Du, Saek, Gai, Mu, Yang. Heh, maybe that one piece of information will end the debriefing if I ever make it back to moonbase.”

Her Teacher/student sat next to her and waited with her.

“There was that one training video,” Meraiah mused to herself upon realizing that the alien sitting next to her wouldn’t understand a word of her thoughts, “That was about a superbeing vs. a normal being with super technology. Which are we? I don’t think I have super powers; I have very good training, but nothing exceptional. So we are probably the super technology ones. And if I remember correctly, those with the super powers won that contest because technology fails, but people merely become tired.

“So I’m stuck here fighting a losing battle.”



CHAPTER NINE



Low-level Colonizing and Settlement functionary Gustavo Rodriguez quickly plowed thru the rest of his mail because it was advertisements that were permitted to be directed to employees, whoever the employer, whichever employee. Every time he had to stack a clutch of advertisements and take them to paper-recycle bin, Gustavo thought of the rumor that folks once believed computers would enable them to use less paper. “Ha ha,” he thought. “A computer was how they know to drop all this at my inbox.”

“Greetings, Miss Stephanie Zain,” Gustavo said as she approached the paper-recycle bin with her own stack of advertisements. “Say, have you ever considered joining the military to be more qualified to board one of those transports into outer space?” Low-level Colonizing and Settlement functionary Gustavo Rodriguez asked her. Low-level Colonizing and Settlement functionary Stephanie Zain did not answer.

“That sounds like a good first step to leaving. I guess it should be a kind of requirement to leaving forever.” he muttered to himself, walking back to his desk. There, he hoisted the sample-letter book from his desk and leafed thru it for the friendliest responses to the two letters on his desk because maybe it is later and something in here will deal with antiques.

“And here it is.” thought Low-level Colonizing and Settlement functionary Gustavo Rodriguez.

“Dear sir or ma’am, We thank you for your interest but we do not foresee needing your skill set. We hope you find success with them where you are.”

“Short and to the point,” he thought. He finished the two letters, sealed and posted them, and opened his desk to put the sample-letter book back in his desk. While lowering it, he heard a scuffle and looked thru desk legs and people legs to his left, about fifty feet, to see running. He thought that was odd for his office until he heard one gun shot. Then he thought that was odd.

“I want to book passage on the next transport and I can buy my own ticket.” declared the irate, armed male. Suddenly, Low-level Colonizing and Settlement functionary Gustavo Rodriguez realized why the letter he had an answer to on his desk sounded familiar.

“And I am not leaving until I get my ticket. I brought my money.” The male continued.

“He might buy a ticket, but he won’t be there when the transport leaves.” Gustavo thought. Thinking of how they were to always use the friendly response, Gustavo stood up and greeted the irate male.

“Good morning, sir.”

“Are you gonna get me a ticket on the next transport?” the irate male demanded.

“I do not sell those things, but you probably read a letter very much like ones I send as part of my job. Do you want to sit down and talk about it or would you rather stand and shoot the ceiling?”

“I’ll shoot the ceiling if I have to.”

“You do not have to shoot the ceiling, sir. So, uh, sir, is that a sit?” Low-level Colonizing and Settlement functionary Gustavo Rodriguez walked over to the armed male, pulled two chairs after him, swung one around for his new friend, and sat in the other. The “open floor plan” then popular with government office space contributed nicely to the moment of camaraderie, however temporary. “So,” began Low-level Colonizing and Settlement functionary Gustavo Rodriguez, stepping outside his low-level status, “You want on the next transport to one of the local star systems?”

“Yes. And I can pay for it.”

“That’s friendly of you, sir. Some questions, tho. What are your skills you’ll be bringing to whatever distant moon or planet or asteroid belt your transport parks at?”

“I can repair any engine.”

“Electrical?”

“Of course.”

“By any engine,” asked Gustavo slowly, “What other engines are there?”

“I can repair diesel, rotary, even internal combustion engines. I can repair steam engines, pneumatic engines, clockwork or wind-up engines. I understand rocket motors and can even work on those.”

“That is impressive, sir. But I notice a glitch in your skill set.”

“What?”

“Well,” Gustavo began as diplomatically as he didn’t know how, “Some of those engines, such as diesel, require oxygen, which requires an atmosphere. The colonizing being done out there,” and Gustavo nodded his head toward Sirius, “Is being done on lifeless moons. By the time the oxygen is brought in, it’s for the inside of the dwelling units . . . and no one runs motors down those hallways.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. The primary construction work is done by people wearing spacesuits and driving electric-powered heavy equipment. What’s the largest electric motor you have ever worked on?”

“Four-hundred horsepower single vehicle motors and construction vehicle two thousand horsepower engines, even as it uses five of those.”

“That is impressive. Can you drive that heavy construction equipment?”

“No. I repair the things. I don’t drive them.”

“And there’s the other glitch, sir. When you are in what is literally the middle of nowhere, not miles but light years from help, you must know very many things do to anything immediately required of you because help is not a phone call away.”

“So I should know how to drive as well as repair?”

“And know how to wear, work in, clean, and care for a space suit. You get a hole in that, even a pinprick, and you die. Then your coworkers are stuck trying to figure out what to do with your corpse. I can tell you, when construction workers have a job in front of them, they’re as likely to use one of the machines to send it out into space as dig a hole to bury it.” Gustavo invented.

“Oh.”

“Yeah. So what other skills do you have?”

“I can fire weapons.”

“I heard. Interesting weapon you have there, in fact. What is it?”

“It’s an antique. They called them “firearms” because they use gunpowder to create a small explosion that fires the projectile.”

“You have a projectile weapon?”

“Yeah.”

“That IS impressive. I have a weird question.”

“What?”

“Is your antique legal?”

“I believe it was grandfathered in, even tho this was technically owned by my great-great-grandfather.” The no-longer irate man revealed.

“It is definitely a show-stopper. May I look at it?”

“Don’t see why not?” The friendly male said, handing Gustavo the weapon. At that moment, law enforcement agents watching the tête-à-tête swooped in, magnelocked the suddenly irate-all-over-again male, and marched, dragged, then carried him out of the building, down the steps, and into an unmarked van.


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