In this latest submission to our short story contest for GAF Mainframe, we see a behind-the-scenes snippet of Susu Frid and Private Puff’s adventures on Arkello 2. This story takes place in the middle of the action-packed events chronicled in The Arkellan Treaty, available later this year from StarkLight Press.
An excellent alien artifact piece written by Sharon Flood!
This story, along with all of our winning artifact entries, is eligible for inclusion in Tales from Space II, the second GAF Mainframe short story anthology. Congratulations, Sharon!
Private Susu Frid,
Personal Device Vid Journal
Arkellan Treaty Mission.
I’m trying out a new encryption here. It’s in the gendler language, in a version of what is called ‘pig Latin’ in Earth English. It’s complicated, but I’m sure it’ll hold up under scrutiny.
I picked up some very interesting artifacts on our mission on Arkello 2, to protect our fearless leader Prime Minister Ferguson while he was negotiating a peace treaty between the Quatrians and the Dynians. We were quartered at the High Hemen hotel where we were debriefed and sent off to gather information from the locals. After everyone split up in the lobby, I turned to Puff, who looked about as bored as I felt. I knew just what would perk us both up. I sidled over to her and put my arm through hers, and steered her toward the elevators.
“Let’s go back up to our room to get some gear. What say we go on a little adventure today?”
Puff looked at me like I was suggesting we go dog sledding in Alaska on Old Earth. She shook her head. She might have heard of some of my other adventures. Come to think of it, Dog Sledding might be fun, except dogs on earth keep trying to eat me. They think I’m some kind of animal. My fur gives off that type of scent, apparently. Since they don’t smell me as a predator, they think: dinner.
“Come on, it’ll be fun,” I said as we got on the elevator. She hung back a bit as we exited at our floor, and I headed for our room.
“We’re supposed to be out and about, chatting up the locals,” Puff replied.
“We can do that later. Have you ever done a space walk, or investigated an asteroid?” I asked.
“No … don’t you need special training for that?”
“Not necessarily. Out in the lobby they’re offering shuttle excursions to the asteroids for the tourists,” I explained.
“I thought the Dynians weren’t into technology.”
“They aren’t. The outfit running the trips are Terran entrepreneurs. The High Hemen owners are leasing them space with the hope that some Dynian locals might be interested in seeing their planet from space. It might make them more amenable to Quatrian technology,” I told her.
“I should think you got your fill of floating rocks by running the obstacle course on the way down here from the ship,” Puff complained on the way to our room.
When we got there I dug out my specialized space gear for use in zero gravity. Being as smart as we are, Gendlers figured out how to get around in space without specifically needing a whole ship to do so. A small shuttle and a tether line was generally sufficient.
“I scanned them from our shuttle. Among my other interests and degrees, space geology is one of them. I happened upon a small cache of very valuable minerals on one of the asteroids. I’m going to go find them,” I told her.
“I saw you over near the portal with some clunky looking object. Where do you come up with such odd little toys?” Puff asked.
“Sometimes I buy them, or invent them, or … um borrow them.” I could feel my face getting warm under the fur, but no one can ever tell. Best I not go into detail about my petty larceny. I don’t want Puff to be questioned as an accessory.
I rooted around till I found the rock collecting tools I had brought with me. I had seen that the minerals were gem stones, and they were fairly close to the surface, but underground, in a way. I thought they might be in a cave. I headed out the door with Puff right behind me.
“It looks like I’ll be staying in the shuttle, since I don’t have a space suit,” Puff commented.
“The excursion company has suits for human type bipeds. They had several on a wall. There’s bound to be one that fits you. I’ll make sure it’s airtight for your use,” I said.
By this time we were down in the lobby. Puff watched with interest as I pulled my credit marker out of a virtually invisible pouch near my abdomen, similar to a Terran kangaroo. Her staring irritated me.
“What? How else should I carry stuff? It’s not like I wear clothes with pockets.”
“You could wear clothes if you wanted to though, couldn’t you?” Puff asked.
“I suppose, but that would be like wearing a dress over a fur coat. I would look ridiculous, and besides, it would be too hot. You know that I wear specially fitted backpacks, holsters and vests for weaponry when we’re on duty in battle. All that is a form of clothing. I wear specialized clothing for space exploration,too. It’s air cooled. Now we have to get the same thing for you,” I said.
We rooted through the suits on the wall, and Puff found one that fit. I used the same test equipment I used on my own gear to make sure it was safe before we suited up. I paid for the two us before we got in the shuttle. The pilot made sure we paid first. It gave me an uneasy feeling that made me think of a line from an ancient song on Old Earth by Chris de Burgh : ‘Don’t pay the Ferryman till he gets you to the other side.’ It made me glad that we always had our PDs to call for help, in case the pilot just dumped us off on an asteroid and left us there.
We climbed into the shuttle and buckled in. I got my geological scanner ready. The pilot lifted off without ceremony. We soon left Arkello 2’s atmosphere, and headed out among the asteroids. I guided the pilot through the asteroid belt until we found the one with gem stones on it. I unbuckled my restraint, reached over the Terran pilot, and grabbed the ignition crystal. I had it out of the console and into a pocket of my space gear before he could even blink. His face turned stormy.
“What the … give that back!” the pilot yelled at me.
“No. You’ll get it back when we get back. Until then, you’re not going anywhere,” I yelled back.
I picked up the rest of my gear and climbed into the airlock. When Puff joined me, I opened the outer airtight door and stepped out onto the asteroid. I made sure that we were both securely tethered to the shuttle before I pulled my scanner out of the equipment satchel attached to the side of my suit. The thing was going crazy. We were close. The asteroid was mostly big rocks and deposits of obsidian, which is black translucent volcanic glass produced by the sudden cooling of molten lava. There were shards of it buried in the landscape all over Arkello 2. There were also obsidian deposits all over the asteroid belt caused by the destruction of Arkello 3. There were many volcano eruptions caused by the relentless bombardment of the planet by Maitre aliens generations ago.
My scanner led us right to a large mound of solid rock and rubble. I pulled out a pick ax, and gave Puff a collapsible shovel. We soon cleared away enough to reveal the entrance to a cave under the loose rocks. We illuminated our helmet lamps and set out on what was probably Puff’s very first spelunking adventure. It wasn’t new to me. I love gemstones and they generally hang out underground. I invented my handy dandy mineral scanner with some uh … ‘borrowed’ components from my university’s geology lab.
We were a good ways back in the cave when I noticed that the cave in front of us was luminescent. Something back there was reflecting off of our helmet lamps. I was so eager to see what was there, I took off towards it. My legs are spindly appendages, and they don’t move well in unaccustomed space gear. I can move with speed, but not with any kind of grace or accuracy. I tripped over rubble on the floor and went rolling down a slight incline like a big blue furry bowling ball. When a Gendler falls, or is hit in a frontal attack, our first instinct is to curl up like a Terran hedgehog or porcupine, without the spikes. I stopped short when I hit something solid, and knocked it over, which made something solid but smaller rain down on me. Luckily, Puff is very light on her feet, and very coordinated. She managed to catch whatever was falling on me, to prevent it from doing me or it serious harm.
When I finally got my feet untangled from my head, I sat up and watched Puff examining several statuettes. The thing that had stopped my fall was a stone altar of sorts. I pushed it back upright and began to put the fallen items on top of it. There were some crude hand made clay statuettes with the heads of cats, and the bodies of women. There was also a small reclining white alabaster cat, a small reclining jade cat, and a larger sitting jade cat which seemed to have a carved platform that it fit into on top of the altar. I returned it to its rightful place. There were several black obsidian cat statuettes and figurines of various sizes and positions. Some had the bodies of women. Some had gold amulets or necklaces. Some had emerald eyes. There was one black obsidian statuette with large emerald eyes, and a huge ruby amulet on its chest. It was the same size as the central jade cat figure on the altar. I carefully put it in a cloth lined collection pouch and put it in my biggest outside pocket.
Puff helped me put the undamaged ones on the altar to get a better look at them. We chose several of the gold and jewel adorned figures and pocketed them. When Puff reached for the big jade unadorned statue, I stopped her, and gave her a slightly smaller heavily bejeweled jade figure instead.
“Not that one. It stays here,” I said.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because that’s the ancient Egyptian goddess Bastet idol. It was worshiped here. This cave was a shrine to her when it was still part of Arkello 3. It’s older than all the rest, and might have come from Old Earth itself, thousands of years ago. The other figures were gifts and companion pieces to it. The obsidian cats were probably made by craftsmen on Arkello 3, because obsidian could be found easily anywhere on the planet. The jade and alabaster ones might have come from Earth, but they’re not nearly as old as the jade idol.”
“How did they get here?” Puff asked as she examined the statuettes.
“Probably a traveler that had visited Earth many eons ago brought the idol, the jades, the alabasters and maybe some Terran slaves here for trade. Arkello 3 had some impressive gold and gemstone deposits in shallow mines. Then as now, gold and jewels were always valuable currency to trade for fuel, supplies, wives, whatever. I expect that the kidnapped Terrans that were dropped here continued their worship in this cave in secret,” I said.
“Why are you leaving the idol here? I doubt if there are any of its worshipers left,” Puff pointed out.
“I know, but the goddess Bastet was the protector of women, children, and domestic cats who protected the home from snakes and vermin. She also protected against infectious diseases and evil spirits.”
“So?” Puff shrugged.
“So, this cave and its shrine still exists after the complete demolition of the rest of the planet. Perhaps in this one space in the galaxy, Bastet still has some power to protect Arkello 2 as this asteroid orbits the planet. After all, it not only survived the attacks that destroyed Arkello 3, it remained a paradise. Who’s to say Bastet didn’t keep it safe? Just in case she did, I’m leaving her here,” I decided.
Puff shrugged. We had already made ourselves reasonably wealthy with what we were taking away with us. The trick would be to keep it safe until we got back to the base. We left the cave and and set a small explosive device at the mouth of it. It was just big enough to completely bury the entrance, without destroying the cave. We returned to the shuttle to find the pilot fast asleep and snoring in his seat. I shook him awake, none to gently. Needless to say, he was not a happy camper.
“Huh? What … shit!” he blurted out while he was still trying to figure out what was going on.
“We’re re ready to leave now, but before we return to the surface, we’re going to make a side trip back to our martial space station. It won’t take long,” I informed him.
“Side trips cost extra,” he said.
“Of course they do.” I rolled my eyes, but since they’re on stalks, he probably missed the sarcasm.
When we got to the ship we went right to our quarters. I grabbed a small oblong box and we took it to the field behind the hotel. I emptied all of my artifacts onto the ground beside me.
“I trust you, so I’m going to show you where I stash my … ummmm … collectables,” I said, lamely.
“My lips are sealed. I won’t tell anyone, I swear,” Puff made a locking motion at her mouth.
“Good. I brought Space Saver Pod with me. I bring it with me everywhere, because I never know when I’m going to end up on a rich planet where I might find some more … um … toys,” I blushed under my fur again.
At some point I was going to have to tell Puff that I’m a thief – a very smart educated thief, but a thief still the same. At some point she’ll have to defend her actions, simply for being associated with me. I entered the code to initiate the Niles Generator’s dematerialization cycle. The generator powered up quietly, there was a brief flash and we were standing in front of a shipping container locked with a biometric. Placing my hand on its pad, I said my name. I took my hand away, and my hand print glowed. The front of the container opened up. I put my bejeweled cats inside in one of the display cases and locked it with a more traditional key. I turned to Puff, who was staring into the crate with huge, impressed eyes.
“Do you want your stuff in here until we get back to the base, or did you want to put it in the station’s main vault at the hotel, Puff?” I asked.
“You can put it all in here. It’ll be safe, and besides, I don’t want the quartermaster to know that I have something valuable enough to put in the vault. I don’t want anybody else to know, for that matter. These statuettes are worth a lot of credits just by themselves because they’re relics from Arkello 3, which no longer exists. That’s not even to mention all of the gold and jewels. I’ll leave it all with you,” Puff told me as she pushed all of her share of our findings against one of the bookshelves in the far corner of the crate. We exited and I closed the front of the Space Saver. I put my left hand on the biometric to lock it up again. It was a simple matter to power up the Niles Generator and send my storage container back into the side dimension where the tiny, oblong generator kept it when I wasn’t using it.
“Well, that’s taken care of. Let’s do what we’re told for once, and scope out the local bar for information,” I said.
“Okay. I’m right behind you,” Puff said as we headed down the street to the tavern.