Book extract

Dummies in Dimensional Drive

by Dr Bob Rich


Jim glanced at his wristwatch: 4 a.m., time to go. He picked up his crossbow, slung the quiver of ten bolts over his shoulder and blew out the tallow candle. As he eased the door open to face the night, he idly wondered how long the watch battery would last. He only had two more spares left.

The sky was a great blaze of stars, but it took a few moments to get used to the darkness that ruled the world otherwise. The moon had set, hours ago.

“You coming?” he heard, whispered from the other side of the wide bed of potatoes.

Naturally, he didn’t answer. Wendy knew the standing orders: get your eyes dark-adapted first. Anyway, it didn’t take long for the path to become a swath of gray ahead. He took a few cautious steps forward. Careful not to knock into the stacks of broken-up pavement that formed the sides of the plant beds, he moved toward the perimeter.

There she was. Starlight glinted on white teeth as she whispered again, “You need to eat more carrots, kid.”

“Any excitement?” he breathed, ignoring the tease.

“Got a 'dillo, is all. I’d have sounded the alarm if it was humans.”

“Sure, or you might be long pork by now. OK, have a nice sleep.”

“I certainly need it, after all that digging yesterday. OK, see ya.” She picked up an odd shape—the armadillo she’d shot—and started a walk every bit as cautious as his had been.

“Wait!” Jim had seen a movement, somewhere beyond the fence.

Both of them released the safety of their crossbows. Finger on trigger, Jim held his breath to hear better. He looked a little to one side, knowing that night vision worked better that way.

He saw another movement, low down. Could be a dog or something, or a man on hands and knees. Either way...

Without warning, a light of incredible brightness shone from above, blinding him for a moment. He looked up. “Holy shit!” he said aloud. “A flying saucer!” It certainly hadn’t been there a minute ago.

At least six people were on the other side of the chain-link fence. A glance showed him that, thank heavens, they didn’t have guns, but held spears. Despite the dirt on her face and clothes, the youngest female looked quite sexy, apart from her ferocious expression. The others were way older than him, but seemed strong and fit. Probably stayed that way on human meat, he thought.

The glare from above etched the little wrinkles into Wendy's face, making her seem ancient. All the same, she firmly pointed her weapon at a big fellow, who appeared to be the leader of the would-be raiders. Little diamonds of light reflected off the man's bushy black beard. It took a second for Jim to realize this must be the pre-dawn dew.

Jim didn’t think they’d attack, being as shocked as he and Wendy. He craned his neck to see the great disk overhead, while hearing several doors bang open behind, on the other side of the potatoes. Good. He heard running footsteps, but didn’t look—enough to know that reinforcements were coming.

The flying saucer was maybe 300 feet in diameter, and just like the pictures he’d seen, way back when TV still worked. White lights shone from a regular array of round spots on the periphery, probably windows, and three searchlights glared down. The thing simply hovered there, maybe a couple of hundred feet above his head.

An amplified voice boomed down, surprisingly, in English: “Don't be afraid. We're here to rescue you from the savagery you're forced to live in. Right now, all over your planet, people like us are contacting people like you. There has been enough suffering.”

“Sounds good,” Jim said to Wendy, loud enough for the would-be raiders to hear, as well as anyone coming up from behind. “But maybe they like long pork too.”

The voice continued, “Put down your weapons. When it's safe, our representative will come to talk with you.”

Jim hung on to his crossbow. A glance showed that Wendy did the same, but the girl on the other side of the fence laid her spear on the ground. She looked across at him with a sneer. “How much damage do you think you can do to people who have technology like that? If they wanted to, they could have swatted us instead of holding a conversation.”

She was right. Jim engaged the safety, and put his crossbow at his feet.

He saw movement between the lights: an egg-shaped thing with a number of dangling legs started descending. It made him think of a spider. As it rapidly lowered, he counted six legs. Only, this thing was the size of a small truck, and obviously mechanical.

It landed smoothly, with three of its legs on each side of the seven-foot high fence.

The same voice came from it, somewhat softer. “There is a confederation of sentient beings within the Galaxy. We come from very varied environments, and are very different from each other. My species has been selected as the rescue mission because we're the team members most similar to you humans. Please don't be shocked by the differences. We're people like you, just in dissimilar bodies. Also, naturally, we’re wearing armor in case one of you has hostile ideas.”

Jim thought his heart would stop, in anticipation. Images of several SF movies went through his mind as an opening appeared in the vehicle.

A white, egg-shaped thing came out, about three feet tall and a bit over a foot in diameter. It smoothly dropped in front of Jim and Wendy. Just before it reached the ground, three white, spindly legs extruded, so it landed on an instant tripod. It had no other distinguishing marks like eyes or anything. Maybe this was the armor, with the being inside.

The same voice came from the thing, at a more conversational level. "Like you, we're beings from a planetary surface, use sound to communicate, and sense electromagnetic radiation."

Uncle Dan spoke from behind Jim. "Of course. What else?"

The voice seemed to have no emotion, then Jim realized, it must be generated by a computer. "Lots of other kinds of beings exist. On your planet alone, the marine mammals are as intelligent as you, and there is a sentient life form in the ionosphere—except they’re practically extinct thanks to your activities. They cannot sense you, and you're unaware of them. And the main work of terraforming Venus for human use was done by a life form living in the space around stars, although not usually in this part of the galaxy."

Jim felt very small and ignorant, but picked up on one thing. "Hey, you're taking us to Venus?"

"Not quite. There were over ten billions of you at the peak of your population. Then, most of you were killed by the sea level rise, the pandemics and the food wars. We estimate maybe three billions are left, and the number is falling daily. That's still way above the carrying capacity of your planet, but we can only take a little over sixty million people. So, we’re selecting very carefully."

"Feeling good about the rescue mission?" Dan grated out. "You're a pack of bastards! Why didn't you stop it in the first place?"

"Keep your distance," the egg said, still in that level tone of voice. A sharp horizontal protrusion appeared, pointing toward Dan who had moved forward.

"If you'll listen, I'll answer your question, although this isn’t the time for a lecture. You're a very young species. All intelligent life goes through predictable developmental steps. One is population explosion combined with uncontrolled resource use. In the past, the Galactic Federation has tried to assist in many ways, but we learned that preventing the consequences means that the beings don't learn. You've got to suffer to grow. So, the standard protocol is to allow the species to determine their own destiny, but to prevent extinction once they’ve had a chance of learning their lesson. There is no other way, I’m sorry."

"Bugger that. I'm not cooperating with... with things that let billions die."

The big man across the fence spoke. "You're not being rational, buddy. Whatever happened is in the past. Now they're offering us a chance at survival. So shut your face and listen."

"OK, I'm listening," Dan said after a gap. "But my group is OK. We're doing well, and I have no interest in leaving."

"Oh, I want to go!" the girl shouted. She stood very close to the big fellow. Jim thought she might be the alpha female, like he'd read about wolves. But then, wouldn’t she want to stay?

The egg said, "I've come right here because this community is organized on sustainable, cooperative lines. We can't take all of you, so I'm glad you want to stay. We can only take one male and one female. And young lady, sorry, you don't qualify."

"What? Why the hell not?"

"Because you're from a group that lives by raiding others, destroying instead of building. We're selecting those who have the best chance of creating a sustainable culture. The rest of you will get all the assistance possible, but you'll need to determine how you run your planet."

"That's not fair! Can I help it that we're forced to—"

"Jena, shut up!" the big man said, quietly. "We don't grovel to anyone, or..." looking at the alien, "any thing."

The girl obeyed, but her eyes shot fire.

The egg continued, "The two we take should be healthy, young, intelligent, without children as yet, and preferably without emotional attachments."

"I'll go," Jim said, hardly able to keep still with excitement. "I'm the youngest adult." He was amused by the twitch of Wendy's lips. She obviously thought him still to be a kid.

The girl, Jena, said, "It said they want someone intelligent." She grinned at him, and he grinned back, with an idea springing to his mind.

Dan said, "Our council will have to discuss this. And there's the question of the woman too."

Oh God, the most likely was Susan. Her face appeared to Jim, and he shuddered at the thought of being paired with her. Diplomatically he said, "Susan's the next youngest, but she's ten years older than me, and, um... Tell you what. I'll go, on the condition that you people take Jena as the female."

As he expected, the egg vetoed this: "Sorry, out of the question. She doesn't have the cultural qualifications."

"Could you give us some time? I think you may find that she does."

He felt everyone's eyes on him, but for once, didn’t care.

"You do have time. I'll return when it’s noon here. And, by the way, the pair from here need not mate with each other."

A white rod grew from the top of the egg, straight up. When it reached the door in the spider-like vehicle, it grew extrusions that grabbed the edge. Then the rod shortened at the bottom, smoothly pulling the egg up. The door shut, and the mechanical spider ascended into the flying saucer.

The searchlights blinked out. Jim realized that dawn had come: gray sky backed the great circular object above. Then it was gone, just disappeared like it had never been. A faint puff of air stroked his face for a moment.

Looking around, he saw that all the settlement was there, even old Mandy and the little kids, even the guards from the other spots along the perimeter.

"OK, buster, what's your idea?" Jena demanded.

Jim addressed the big man instead, the leader. "Do you like living the way you do? By having to kill for food?"

"You've guessed it, no. I used to be a police sergeant, and a good one too. I protected people. But you've got to do what you've got to do."

"Well, Dan organized a self-sufficient village. He started several years before the shit hit the fan. And we only kill to defend ourselves."

"Where are you going with this, young fellow?"

“It'd help us if you settled down next to us. If we're neighbors, we’ll have one boundary we don't need to defend. And the bigger our total group, the safer we are. We could help you with things like seed to plant."

Jena said, "I take it back. You're not as stupid as you look."

"Thanks for the compliment. And you might look OK too if you had a wash once a year."

"You are stupid after all. I'm wearing camouflage."

The big man spoke over their banter. "That's the problem, I was just going to say. Water and fuel. How do you supply them?"

Dan stroked his beard, as always when thinking. "Jim told you, we started planning long ago, when things could still be bought. Eight of our houses have solar electricity and solar water heaters. And every house has rainwater tanks. We even had water filters that lasted beyond the time the air was full of crud."

"OK, very good for you." He waved a hand at the ruins behind him. "So, we settle there and you give us water?"

"How many of you are there?"

"Twenty-eight. Twenty-seven if my daughter is stupid enough to go off with the eggs."

Oh good. She was not his woman but his daughter.

Dan said, "I'll unlock the gate. You can come in and discuss things."

"Jena and I'll come." The leader turned to one of the other men in his group. "Tim, you-all go back and bring everyone here."

Dan strode off to unlock the gate, fifty meters to the south, and the two visitors came in.

However, as they approached the place where Jim and Wendy still stood as the focus, Marilyn shouted, her voice shrill with tension. She held her crossbow, armed and pointing at the big man. "I don't trust them. They'll wait their time, murder us all and take everything we've built up!"

Hey, it's not my problem anymore, Jim thought, and said to the girl, "Jena, do you want a hot bath?"

Her face became devastatingly beautiful when she looked at him with joy. But then she said, "Don't think you can screw me by doing me favors! Try anything, and you'll never have children. I've kicked guys in the crotch before!" All the same, she hurried toward the buildings so he needed to stride out to keep up with her. She continued, "My dad's second dan Karate, and he's taught me since I was ten."

Jim felt relieved that she didn't smell, never mind the dirt.

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