…When you’re in charge of ship filled with impish little Green aliens, the surprises a new world holds are only half the game. The other half are the surprises your crewmates and captain will think up…
Presenting a snippet from:
THE ANCIENT ONES
by David Brin
(appearing in Jim Baen’s Universe, Vol. 1 No. 1, June 2006)
If you want to read the whole story earlier than everybody else, visit http://www.baensuniverse.com and join the Universe Club.
Can anything be more burdensome than maturity?
…a bit of mature, human-style prudence that he then proceeded to spoil by saying “Always try to slurry with a syringe on top.”
“Yup.” The captain nodded, perfunctorily. “In case of post-nozzle drip.”
But at that moment he was more interested in guns than puns, checking to make sure that there were fresh nanos loaded in the formidable blaster at his hip.
“Ready, Sir?” The tech asked through the transparent door, trying to catch my gaze even as she addressed the Captain. Her nickname, “Eyes,” came from big, doelike irises that she flashes whenever I look her way. She is very pretty, as Demmies go… and they will go all the way at the drop of a boot-lace.
“Do it, do it, do it!” Olm urged, rocking from foot to foot.
She turned a switch and I felt a powerful tingling sensation.
For those of you who’ve never slurried, there can be no describing what it’s like to have a beam zap through you, reading the position of every cell in your body. Then comes the rush of solvent fluid, flooding in through a hundred vents, filling the transport chamber, rising from your boots to your thighs to your neck faster than you can cry, I’m melting!
It doesn’t hurt. Really. But it is disconcerting to watch your hands dissolve right in front of you. Closing your eyelids won’t help much, since they go next, leaving a dreadful second or two until your entire skull—brain and all—crumbles like a sugar confection in hot water.
First—above all other requirements—you have to like Demmies.
I mean really like them.
Try to imagine spending a voyage of several years crammed in tight quarters with over a hundred of the little devils, sharing constant peril while daily enduring their puckish, brilliant, idiotic, mercurial, and always astonishing natures. It would drive any normal man or woman to jibbering distraction.
Against such pressures, the Human Advisor aboard a Demmie ship must always display the legendary Earthling traits of calmness, reason and restraint. Plus—heaven help us—a genuine affection for the impossible creatures.
At times, this fondness is my only anchor. While I’m loyal to my Demmie captain and crewmates, there have been days when some infuriating antic leaves me frazzled to the bone. Times when I find that I can fathom the very different attitude chosen by our Spertin foes, who wish to roast every living Demmie, slowly, over a neutron star.
When such moments come, I have to take a deep breath, count to ten, and find reserves of patience deeper than a nebula. More often than not, it’s worth it.
By now, a veritable army of little nanos swarmed over the captive, inspecting their handiwork, keeping the tiny ropes taut and jumping up and down in jubilation. Some, for lack of anything else to do, appeared to be hard at work sewing rips in the native’s dark, satin-lined cloak and black, pegged pants. Others re-coifed his mussed hair.
(Just because someone is a prisoner, that doesn’t mean he can’t look sharp.)
Guts pushed his bio-scanner toward the humanoid, having to fight through a tangle of tiny ropes while mutturing something about how “…nanos are the winchers of our discontent,” in a Shakespearean accent.
“Planetary surface scanning underway, Advisor Montessori. Preliminary indications show that paved cities comprise over six percent of total land area, an unusually high proportion, even for a world passing through stage eighteen, though much contraction appears to have occurred recently. Gosh, I wish I was down there exploring with you guys, instead of stuck up here.”
“Lieutenant Taken,” I murmured firmly.
“Um… survey also shows considerable environmental degradation in agricultural zones and coastal waters, with twenty-eight percent loss of topsoil accompanied by profound silting. Say, will you bring me back a souvenir? Last time you promised you’d—”
“All right, so you didn’t exactly promise, but you didn’t say ‘no’ either. Remember the party in hydroponics last week? You were talking about detection thresholds for supernova neutrinos, but I could tell you kept looking down my—”