by Michael W Clark Ph.D.

“Stand up on your legs.” Jack Call hung in the air. He liked manipulating gravity as foreplay.

“I am standing on my legs. I have four of them,” Ovula snapped out in English. She spoke English well for a Pe-li-too. Her fur was silken despite its durability. 

“Hind legs. The backmost ones.” Jack Call moved the controller up above zero. His bare feet touched the cold of the carbon fibre deck. It would warm automatically with touch, but for an instant it was as cold as vacuum space. Jack Call loved contrast. It made him laugh.

Ovula stood. Her ventral side was smooth and silky too. The fur there was a lighter shade than on her dorsal side. “You will never fertilize me. No matter how often you try,” her mouth prevented a smile. Her two sets of eyes did twinkle with glee.

“Never my intent. Ever. With anyone, human or non-human. More sentient beings around than needed.” Jack Call had just retired from the Service. Foreplay was what filled his time now. The Pe-li-tooians were a very agreeable species. It was why he requested his last tour of duty on Pe-li-too. He wanted to stay. The Service needed civilian admin. He could get his Service pension and a civilian admin salary. Plenty of funds, plenty of time, for foreplay and full-play. 

Ovula grasped Jack Call by the neck with the four hands she had on her forelimbs. “I will squeeze, which you like.”

Jack Call chuckled and turned the gravity negative. ‘Strangled in free fall’, they called it. A total loss of control. Total submission was so much fun to a soldier. It just wasn’t reality and that was what fantasy was all about. Ovula squeezed slowly. Her hands were small but each had a thumb and three fingers. They squeezed every part of his neck. Jack Call smiled with the pressure as he reduced gravity further. Despite the mass, the two floated into the air. A civilian admin’s dwelling / office was small, so they touched the ceiling almost immediately. Ovula squeezed continually. Jack Call’s smile faded as his face reddened. He tried to reach up, but Ovula had restrained his arms with her hind legs. They too had two hands each. Jack Call had never panicked in his career. But he did struggle unsuccessfully. Ovula continued to squeeze until Jack Call had neither resistance nor life left in him.

Ovula released Jack Call. His negative gravity kept him on the ceiling as Ovula dropped to the deck. She typed on the wall keyboard. During foreplay Jack Call turned off the voice control. Ovula was happy about that. It switched off the security access protocol. Jack Call wasn’t too trusting, he was too condescending. He thought Ovula too unsophisticated to understand technology. All the humans thought Pe-li-tooians simple minded. They were all wrong. Jack Call just discovered; too late, how wrong he was. Ovula wanted to install an access point in the Service central net. It was the last day for Jack Call’s Service authorization codes, so it ended up the last day for Jack Call. “Your semen is too soft to fertilize a Pe-li-tooian, Jack Call,” Ovula said as a goodbye to Jack Call’s floating corpse. “It has to be in an arrow shaped packet to pierce the body wall. Your semen is like snot, just another mess to be wiped away.”

Ovula had reduced the temperature of the dwelling / office to prevent decomposition. The corpse would freeze eventually. Ovula left an app running on the terminal to make it appear that Jack Call was fulfilling his duties. It would last long enough for the campaign to be well under way before any human wondered about the fate of Admin Call.

“Because we didn’t resist,” Ovula stated to the other occupants of the meeting place. The Pe-li-tooians preferred to hang than sit, so the walls were full. 

“They will be surprised,” was the chorus reply. 

Ovula hopped to her favourite wall fixture. “Net access was established. The Service code checkers are as smug and lazy as the rest of the Service. It might be a month before they find it.”

Ovuto was much older than Ovula and thus had much more authority. “The campaign should have a foot hold by then. So good. So good. Humans are so disgusting.”

Ovula nodded. 

“Disgusting they are,” was said by all on the walls as a reply.

“The state of the Pe-li-too infrastructure is so deteriorated that most of the humans stay on orbital platforms.” Fagigbe was an Academic and thus of low status to the Service. He studied what they conquered. That was the way the Service put it. “The humans generally think the Pe-li-tooians just let things go. The cities are mostly abandoned by sentients. The formerly high technology civilization which had developed on the planet has gone native. Rejected tech for a life as hunter gatherers in the planet’s dominating jungles. It could have been a religious reawakening? It could simply have been economic pacification. The jungles are so dense with abundant resources, the present Pe-li-tooians are pacified by nature. With no limit on food, hoarding is unnecessary. Greed was unnecessary too. Most hunter gatherer societies only own what they can carry. Possession of territory confuses them. When you have picked all the fruit just move on. Next season there will be more. Most of the early human merchant traders thought Pe-li-too was the planet of suckers.” The audience’s laughter was growing. They were here for the same reason Fagigbe was. The annual report. Every division had to give and receive. Fagigbe was usually bored with the Service boasting of battles which never happened. Pacifists have no winning strategy in battle. Not being involved was an attitude, not a strategy. When the Service moved into a new area on the planet, there was no battle, just troop movements. The battles were mostly with the dense vegetation. 

“Weak suckers, at that!” someone shouted from the audience to more laughter.

“The microbes here put up more of a fight!” someone else shouted.

Fagigbe sighed. He wanted to stop right then but if he didn’t finish, he didn’t get paid. “Cultural norms. Alien cultural norms are, well, alien. But there are analogies between them and us. Human society had to become spacefaring. The global metropolis which ancient Earth had become drove humans out into the galaxy. Ancient Earth was used up, resource-wise. We could only look for other resource sources. In many ways, the Pe-li-too fled their cities back to the jungle, much like humans fled the Earth.”

“Humans expanded into the galaxy. We didn’t run away!” It was an angry shout.

“Our civilization is aggressive in that expansion, then.” Fagigbe was calculating how much money he would lose if he ran away. He wasn’t afraid of being afraid. “When our outposts have harvested all that can be had from a planetary system, it moves on. Much like the natives here, eat all the fruit and then move on.”

“No analogy I can see!” Everyone recognized the voice of the Commander. “Academician Fagigbe? Are you nearing the end of this, ah, report?”

“If the Commander wishes it. The end is near.” Fagigbe knew that annoying the Service officers always terminated any interaction. The Service irritates, it does not get irritated. 

“Make it nearer,” the Commander commanded.

“Like any rainforest.” Fagigbe nodded. “All nutrients are caught in the cycle. There is very little mineral excess. Everything is being utilized. The sentients are the only resources of any abundance, in a manual labour force.”

“They give great massages. Those eight little hands. Now that is a cultural achievement,” someone stated to the applause of all of the Service personnel. 

“Not good head though, too many teeth!” someone else shouted. Laughter rained.

Fagigbe warmed with embarrassment. “Well, I think I have said enough.”

“More than enough,” the Commander verified.

Fagigbe’s immediate superior was tall and thin from being born in space. He was a microgravite. An MG. So that was what everyone called him. It was better than his other nickname, Gravity Unwell. MG never left the space platforms. It was a valid excuse for not being at the annual presentations. Fagigbe had been born in a gravity well of 0.85 G. Fagigbe thus had no excuse, as well as no status. “Tradition.” It was MG’s answer to most of Fagigbe’s frustration-oriented questions. 

Fagigbe had let his hair grow while he was on Planet Surface. It had gotten longer than he had thought. He hated how his hair floated around his scalp in microgravity. He would get it shaved off right after this meeting. He called it, ‘Frustration Hour.’ “Why do they bring us, if they ignore what we say or laugh at it?”

When MG shrugged, his entire body was involved. “Always been that way. It is imbedded in the military budget. No one reduces that. It has been continual growth, so there are never any cutbacks. Gives us non-military types a wage.”

Fagigbe frowned. Exo-anthropology was his field. Exo-anthropologist? That wasn’t his title. Planet Surface engineer. That was his title, his position, but it had no job description. It was a job title only. He did mostly whatever he wanted. “I want to add to human understanding of alien cultures,” Fagigbe muttered. “I feel no one else cares but me.”

MG looked pained. “Whatever made you think anyone would? The Service’s unofficial motto is, ‘It’s not exploitation if you need it.’ Does that sound like they care about others? As a MicroGravite, I know outer space. ‘There is limited space in space.’ That is our unofficial saying. Resources are always limited. You have to learn not to worry too much. Disaster was always possible, so why worry about the inevitable?”

Fagigbe hated this talk. They had it over and over. It always ended the same.

“Don’t worry, be happy, because tomorrow you might die.” MG had a little tune he sung it to. 

These talks were why Fagigbe called it the ‘Frustration Hour.’ He was frustrated going in and frustrated going out. The only difference was the reasons for his frustration. It was all very unproductive. Happy and unproductive didn’t mix with Fagigbe. “I need a haircut.” He stood up slowly, getting used to microgravity again. He didn’t want to hit the ceiling.

MG nodded. “Yeah, looks like a halo. Ha! You no angel.”

Fagigbe had thought he liked MG, but maybe he didn’t? Maybe he had just grown tired of him and it? There weren’t usually Pe-li-too on the orbital platforms, but there were two down the corridor just past the Vacuum Barbershop. Fagigbe thought he recognized both of them. “Ovuga? Ovufu? What are you doing up here?” Fagigbe pulled himself along the wall for balance. The Velcro soles took some getting used to again. The multiple hands of the Pe-li-too allowed them to move with agility in microgravity. 

Ovuga was the larger of the two. “Engineer Fagigbe? We thought you were at Planet Surface?” Ovuga hit Ovufu with his large tail. 

Ovufu jerked around. “He’s not supposed to be here.”

“It is you.” Fagigbe came up to them. “I had to come up after the annual presentation. It’s deserted up here, everyone else is Planet Surface. My manager can’t go down, so I have to come up to report on the report I gave down there. Bureaucracy. You know how it is. Ha! Your fur still lays flat up here. How do you do that?”

Ovuga pushed Ovufu with his tail, wanting her to move. “Oh. I read about your old world. There were birds with feathers. The featherlets had interlocking barbules. Our fur has a similar structure. There is epidermal musculature also involved.” Ovuga looked down the corridor. Ovufu had disappeared. 

Fagigbe patted his head. “Wish I had that. My hair stands straight out. If it is too long it hits me if I turn around too fast. It stings.” Fagigbe liked the Pe-li-too. They were always so attentive. 

Ovuga nodded with understanding. “Maybe a better solution would be Planet Surface. Human evolution put your species on the ground. Very two dimensional.” Ovuga was hanging / standing on the ceiling. 

Fagigbe giggled. “Yes, seven million years ago or more, we came out of the trees. Seven million years is a long time even for geological concerns.” 

The hindmost set of external ears on the back of Ovuga’s head became erect and turned in the direction Ovufu had gone. “Engineer Fagigbe, please return to Planet Surface. It is safer for you there.”

Fagigbe was puzzled. “You mean the microgravity? No. The doctors checked me out. Heart’s okay but thank you for the concern.”

“As you wish. But, but, we have respect for you, Engineer Fagigbe. Much respect for your views.” Ovuga waved as he turned. “I must go.”

Fagigbe smiled waving back. “Nice seeing you.” Fagigbe rubbed his head. His hair developed a static charge. It sparked slightly. “Air is kept so dry up here. Maybe I will go back down on the next shuttle. Save myself the cost of a haircut.” He could get a free meal up here too. Food was free on presentation day. On the orbital stations everything was available at the same time. Day and night cycles were artificially controlled and had little to do with Planet Surface. Everyone had their own cycle. Fagigbe felt like pancakes. They were fluffier in microgravity than one G. It was a good feature to have, to suck down the butter. The syrup was extra sticky for the same reason. Foods needed to stick together in microgravity, with themselves and each other. 

Fagigbe wanted to take a nap after his large breakfast. There was an alcove in the cafeteria just for this purpose. It had sound-dampening privacy curtains. Fagigbe napped alone. No cuddle companion for Fagigbe. It was his involuntary routine. He was deficient in both sex appeal and disposable income. He still felt groggy after his nap. He could sleep further on the shuttle down, so he went from the cafeteria directly to the shuttle bay. The corridors were absent of staff. Presentation day usually cleared out the station but not like this. Fagigbe had spent months on Planet Surface. Maybe there had been staffing changes? The Service routines would alter abruptly for unknown security reasons, so he shrugged it off as SOP. Still, the next shuttle was there. It was vacant. That was too strange even for the Service. Someone was always on the move, usually. The shuttle was on but there was no pilot. Fagigbe was curious but cautious. It was basic space training. 

There were personnel down at the far end of the bay. Fagigbe waved at them. “Is there a drill?” He was waking up sufficiently to realize the personnel were Pe-li-too, not human. They were emerging from a troop transport. The lead group of Pe-li-too heard Fagigbe’s query. They didn’t answer but started running toward Fagigbe. Pe-li-too were fast. Their unusual aggressiveness startled him. They were almost on him before he considered evasive action. He was never good at running with Velcro soles anyway. Fagigbe closed his eyes instead of running. He didn’t know what was happening. Maybe it was a prank by the Service. They liked humiliating the civilians. 

Fagigbe heard barking. Pe-li-too language was difficult to mimic but he understood most routine conversations. 

“Leave him!” It was Ovuga’s voice.

The reply startled Fagigbe more than anything else. “He must die!” The statement, demand, opened Fagigbe’s eyes. 

Ovuga stood between Fagigbe and the murderous group. “Leave him to me. Continue with your part of the Campaign!” The group bowed without a word and ran out of the bay. Ovuga turned toward Fagigbe. “My wish was for you on Planet Surface.”

“What is happening?” Fagigbe was having difficulty with the divergence from routine. “Why did they want me dead? Do you? Are you my killer?” Fagigbe was very confused. “Why?”

“No!” Ovuga scanned the bay. “No. My request was for you at Planet Surface. You living was the point.” Ovuga grasped Fagigbe by the right arm. He pulled Fagigbe up in the air with a rip of Velcro. “I need you hidden.”

Fagigbe stared into the multiple sets of eyes. “What is happening? Please.”

Ovuga sighed. “Just because we didn’t resist didn’t mean we lacked a response.” 

“A rebellion?” Fagigbe was astonished. He had written an evaluation on just such a possibility. His conclusion had been wrong, apparently. 

Ovuga jumped while hiding Fagigbe. “Our response is your surprise.”

Fagigbe nodded as Ovuga slammed him into a produce stasis locker. 

Suddenly time stopped for Fagigbe.

The annual presentation week was a controlled shore leave for the Service as well as a bureaucratic formality. Annual reports had to be produced, reported and filed, but they could be enjoyed too. The Service personnel took every second to enjoy the process. Alcohol rationing was lifted at this time. Anyone who wanted it could be intoxicated to the level they could tolerate. Contraceptives were not required. “Just do it! The Service will need more recruits.” Few officers noticed communication alerts. The non-coms weren’t noticing anything much at all. Once they were at Planet Surface, they lost interest in the true heavens, to seek the oblivion of intoxication. A spiritual quest of a sort. A quest for spirits.

It was not that they didn’t care about the fate of the skeleton crews on the space platforms. They just didn’t much care about anything at the time. The Service routine was all about future conquest, the next first encounter, the next occupation of an alien world. All preparations, all activities were for things to come. The annual boring presentations about the past were actually the prelude for the release of tension and order to oblivion. Synaptic disorder. “Fuck the Future,” was the drinking salute. “Alive for now.”

Another item all the Service personnel and non-Service humans didn’t notice was the lack of Pe-li-too. The usual Pe-li-too complement was there at the beginning of the annual presentations but soon disappeared. Those officers who did notice shrugged it off as the simple-minded lazy natives taking a nap. “Fuck the aliens too! When you can!”

Ovula always felt contained by the human’s keyboard interface. She would have preferred to speak commands but the Campaign’s Code name was Quiet for a reason. Platform internal security monitored speech. The Platform AI would interpret certain words and phrases as security breaches and potential mutineers. The Pe-li-too were well versed in Human 1 and 2 languages but the Campaign was too important to play games with the AI speech monitors. Few humans used the keyboards routinely. They were kept active, though, in case of emergencies. Ovula was thus manually entering the release codes for the newly built troop transports. Pe-li-too was at the edge of human expansion. Human strategy was to build the devices of war on site and then bring in personnel. The strategy was efficient and had been effective. Human expansion had never been stopped by any alien race they had encountered. Blitzkrieg had always worked. Rapid and aggressive. The Pe-li-too had learned. The Quiet Campaign was silent and rapidly aggressive. The access codes Ovula had gotten from Jack Call reassured the AIs. Any orders Ovula entered were seen as valid. The troop transports needed to be stocked and fuelled. Time was the factor here. Ovula watched the clock. Weapons were prepared too. The Urgent category on the orders had the AIs working a top efficiency, by passing all other commands that might come from other sources. The entire space platform fleet was now under Ovula’s direction. 

There was hand to hand fighting within the corridors of the space platforms. Isolated human skeleton crews lost their struggle to maintain control. Since the Pe-li-too could withstand severe conditions, many corridors were simply opened to space. The humans would succumb to the cold vacuum before any Pe-li-too. Energy weapon discharge could be interpreted by the AI as mutiny. The AI dilemma which the Pe-li-too understood was that the AI had superior intelligence but were limited. They were intentionally limited by the humans as a security precaution. The Pe-li-too used it to their advantage.

Ovula was monitoring the situation but growing anxious. Time was being eaten by the loading of supplies. 

“The troop transports need to move soon,” Ovuga said from the cabin doorway. He had Fagigbe over his back. 

“What is he doing here?” Ovula hissed. 

“He was supposed to be Planet Surface but Fagigbe was never a routine human. He will come with us.” Ovuga placed Fagigbe on the deck. “He is still recovering from the supply stasis field. We are to be on our way before his complete recovery.”

“It is not in the plan,” Ovula hissed again.

“A slight modification is all. Like a leaf in the wind, the Plan will not notice,” Ovuga hissed back. “The transports have to move now. The evacuation must be successful. That is the imperative of the Plan.”

Ovula hissed not a word. The troop transports begun their approach to Planet Surface. “The imperative implementation has begun.”

Ovuga looked over at Fagigbe, slumped on the deck. “He will understand. Some humans will understand.”

“Most won’t. Most couldn’t.” Ovula typed in commands. “The corridors are clear now. We can move to the command ship.”

“He will need an EVA suit. I will get him in it and follow you.” Ovuga clicked open an emergency closet. An alarm sounded. 

Ovula hissed no words but typed in a command and the alarm stopped. “Hurry!” Ovula left the cabin without a glance back.

“I came to tell her to hurry,” Ovuga stated. “I will follow.” He picked up Fagigbe and inserted a limp leg.

Fagigbe wasn’t in the Service but he was well trained for living in space. He knew never to throw up in an EVA suit. There were training sessions on the repression of vomiting. Stasis recovery always made him nauseous. He just couldn’t think about it. Where he was, he should think about. He was face down but moving. He could see very little through the helmet. He saw deck plate and Pe-li-too fur. He was on the back of one. When he lifted his head, he could see the frozen bodies of the Platform crew. There was a hull breach. There must have been an accident. But then Fagigbe remembered the shuttle bay, what had happened there. “No accident,” Fagigbe said to himself. He could see the helmet control panel, the comms were off. He was still too weak to move, so he didn’t. “If they wanted me dead, I would be.”

He was eventually strapped into a seat on a shuttle. Ovuga moved him there. Ovula was piloting. Once the shuttle doors closed, Ovuga removed the EVA suit helmet.

“Fagigbe-man? Are you consciousness?” Ovuga took a neck pulse reading. “You are excited. Heart rate is high. Things are happening. But not a reason for fear,” Ovuga said slowly. “But you have to come with us. There is no other way I can keep you alive.”

“He knows too much, already,” Ovula snapped.

“That is why he has to come.” Ovuga patted Fagigbe’s chest. “Just be yourself. Your unmanly self. Circumstances will work out. When we get to the command ship, you have to go into stasis again.”

Fagigbe nodded. “I can’t resist. I don’t have the strength.”

“You wouldn’t, because you will understand.” Ovuga checked the seat restraints. “Best to go to sleep. Deniability then, if need be.”

“If the Campaign fails, you mean?” Ovula barked. “It can’t fail.”

“It won’t fail,” Ovuga soothed both Ovula and Fagigbe.

The General of Service was not pleased with the interruption. “I have officers who deal with communications. Talk to them,” the General grumbled at an appropriate level.

“I am one of them, sir.” The Captain of Service was a large woman. She was never intimidated by power. “We have lost communications with the platforms.”

The General blinked in confusion at still being talked to. “Contact another.”

“All space platforms have gone silent. Posted satellites too. There is no communication off surface.” She coughed. “That is limited, too. The shuttle crews don’t respond either.”

A civilian whispered into the Captain’s ear. She frowned, which caused the General to frown back at her. “Sir, there are no shuttles planet side. It is not standard procedure, I know.”

The General of Service laughed. “Ah, the annual presentation razz. Just a laugh, yes. Good one. My complements. Lost contact with space. Ha! Ha!”

“Not a hoax sir. A fact,” the Captain stated without intimidation. The civilian nodded silently with enthusiasm and silence.

The General sighed. “Get me a four hand. They are too simple to have a sense of humour.” He scanned the arena for a Pe-li-too. “Where is one? Ah, where the hell. One should be in every section.”

The Captain came to attention. “We were wondering if the General of Service had sent them all on a secret errand? They are missing like the shuttles.”

“What the hell is going on here?” The General of Service had never lost his voice in his later years. His bellow stopped every member of the Service immediately. They all came to attention the best they could. “Everyone, find the shuttles and a four hand. Find out what the hell is happening.”

“Do you think the Pe-li-too took the shuttles?” The civilian broke his silence.

“Why would they do that?” The General turned red faced toward the civilian. “They all go for a joy ride?”

“We will find out exactly the situation, sir.” The Captain saluted.

“Find the fuck out fast.” The General bellowed again. All the Service members saluted and then scattered.

Nurse Bendora stumbled into the command ship docking bay. Her eyes were red and panicky. When she saw Fagigbe leaning against the wall, she ran the best she could toward him. When she hugged him, Fagigbe gasped with surprise. “They killed humans. They can’t kill. They are vegetarians.” Nurse Bendora was shivering with fear.

“I saw. Yes. You are the nurse from Planet Surface.” Fagigbe said it just to confirm she wasn’t a hallucination.

“Bendora,” she whispered. “Ovuhela had always been so nice and kind. The Pe-li-too always volunteered at the Centre. They healed, not harmed.” Bendora shook violently. She cried out. “We shall die!”

Fagigbe hugged her tightly. “No. No. We are okay. They didn’t bring us here to kill us. They could have pushed us into space.”

“Hostages?” she whispered into Fagigbe’s ear.

“Us? Well, me? The Service wouldn’t care about me.” Fagigbe knew they wouldn’t care if he lived or died. “You are a nurse. They need you.”

She pulled back a little to see Fagigbe’s face. “I, ah, I’m sorry. I don’t remember your name.” She pushed her face back down on his shoulder.

“Not important, like I said.” Fagigbe scanned the docking bay. There was a shuttle coming in. It was filled with Pe-li-too. “I think we had better move. Ovuga wanted me to wait. I guess for you. And then we go into the supplies stasis chamber. To be certain the other Pe-li-too won’t kill us on sight.”

“But they are non-violent culturally. I don’t understand.” Bendora separated from Fagigbe just enough so they could walk. 

“Apparently, they are deceitful culturally. Whatever it is, things have changed. We need to get out of sight.” Fagigbe picked Bendora up and carried her to the stasis chamber. Bendora wept as he did. “I would tell you not to be frightened, things are okay, but that would be deceitful too. Just hope Ovuga and Ovuhela survive.”

“I will hope,” she muttered as Fagigbe sat her in the supply stasis chamber beside net bags full of heads of cabbage. She couldn’t look at them though, they looked too much like heads, not enough like cabbage.

Fagigbe set the timer on the chamber, entered, closed the door and sat down beside her. He put his arm around her. And then nothing. Stasis felt like nothing. Unfortunately, coming out of stasis held plenty of feeling.

The Captain of Service pointed at the subspace communications array. “You mean it has been sabotaged? We can’t contact the other base planets?”

The civilian technician was uncertain of what the answer should be. She decided as close to the truth as possible was best. She was cut off too. “It’s in the software. In the millions of lines of code somewhere. Just a do not proceed command. Stops everything. No outgoing or incoming.”

“The hardware is functional?” the Captain snapped.

“All diagnostics on the mechanical aspects are nominal. Functional. Just a bug in the code.” The civilian knew what was coming next. She tried not to wince.

“Then find the bug!” the Captain ordered.

“It could take days.” 

“We aren’t going anywhere.” The Captain of Service pointed at the console. “Get started. And where is the station crew?”

The technician shrugged as she adjusted the seat. “I got here the same time you did.”

The Captain stared at the screen. It always had the various satellite camera views up. A quarter for Planet Surface, but the rest of the screen for Surrounding Space. The enemy would come from out there, so watch there. Now the screen was blank. It was switched off. “Who switched it off? There were no warnings. No external computer incursion detected.”

The technician was shaking her head as she spoke. “Nothing has been forced. Access codes were valid. A Jack Call.”

“But he retired a month ago.” The Captain went to a terminal. “Jack Call records.” Nothing happened.

“The keyboard. You have to use the keyboard. Vocal has been shut down too.” The technician typed. “There. Jack Call. Retired. Access. Active. Someone was lax.”

“We have to find out what happened.” The Captain turned and left the room.

The technician shrugged but kept typing while answering the departed Captain’s question. “Situation normal, all fucked up. SNAFU. And a FUBAR too.”

Fagigbe and Bendora were given little time to recover from stasis. They were physically put in a fully stocked shuttle by Ovuga and Ovuhela. Fagigbe was a good pilot. But he felt nauseous as usual. “Are we being abandoned?”

Ovuga shook his head. “Compromise. The rest of the Pe-li-too are gone.”

Ovuhela nodded. “To keep you alive, you must become emissaries for the sentient race in this sector. The coordinates are laid in.” 

“Emissary of what?” Bendora was waking.

“The Pe-li-too had an improper evaluation of Human aggression.” Ovuhela looked out into space. “We thought appearing non-threatening and submissive would cause the Humans’ aggressive trait to lose interest in us and then you would move on.”

Ovuga was wringing his front hands as he balanced on his hindmost legs. “The aggression continued to total dominance. We have never seen such a response in our biological systems.”

“Evasion seems the least destructive solution.” Ovuhela looked at Bendora with love. 

Bendora stared back. She liked Ovuhela very much. “All of you are running away?”

“It is the most reasonable thing to do.” Ovuga sighed. “Too many deaths have occurred already. We didn’t want more. So, you have a purpose. It is key to your survival.”

“We can’t come with you?” Bendora frowned at Ovuhela.

“Not in the compromise.” Ovuhela looked away. “You need to convince the Su-su-lanar to, ah, run away before you Humans get to them.”

“You can stay with the planet or go with the Su-su-lanar when they leave. It is your choice. Since you don’t know where we have gone. It doesn’t matter.” Ovuga backed out of the shuttle slowly. “We have beamed Human language 1 and 2 to them already. They know you are coming but not your purpose. It is best to hear it from a human, humans. The Su-su-lanar are a very practical race. Just the real data should make it clear to them.”

“You were, are, a space faring civilization? There were no indications of such technology.” Fagigbe’s face reddened. “You hid it all? From me?” Fagigbe was almost in tears.

“It seemed the most reasonable of circumstances. All of Pe-li-too thought you would think us too primitive to bother with.” Ovuga hung his head. “Our entire populace was wrong. So, hiding from humans was the fallback.”

“So, we have fallen back.” Ovuhela stepped back out of the shuttle. “We will wait until you are underway. Once you are gone, we will go. Please do not try to follow. Your mission is the most reasonable thing to do.”

“Nothing about this is reasonable!” Bendora snapped out. She was restrained to the chair so she couldn’t move. The shuttle door had shut already and the engines turned on. “Not reasonable at all.” She started to weep.

Fagigbe touched the controls. The shuttle moved ahead. The path was already plotted. He simply touched Engage. “It may not be reasonable but it is all we have. At least we are not dead.”

“Yet!” Bendora muttered.

“That can always be said about life.” Fagigbe smiled. Another new species. An undiscovered civilization. He would be first contact. “Something to live for.” He was just recovered enough to smile.

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