FINALIST Submission by By M. Baker
First Fear [ Part 2 of 4 ]
Wei Colony. 5 Years previously.
The craft zoomed overhead, not caring what destruction it caused on the ruins of the once proud city in it's wake. The ship, like the newly built station high above was Antaran, however unlike the station above it was old, very , very old. Centuries of constant war had eroded parts of the hull so newer bright green parts stood out against the battle-scared grey-green hull. A millennium of technological advance had rendered it obsolete, it's weapons ineffective against modern-day shielding and it's hull tissue-paper when hit by almost any weapon in common military use. However to the inhabitants of the ruins it was a fearful sight. Something that was talked about in old wives tales to scare children, the thing of nightmares. Everyone recognised it as the craft landed in a reasonably clear patch of what had once been a road. The concrete had warped and twisted away by war and age, the metal which had once flanked the road had been scavenged and used to create housing for the refugees. When the Orion-Antaran war had ended, most planets had either been colonised by the invaders or left for a single species, however Wei had been highly devastated by the war, the sub-space around the system so distorted that transport was almost impossible. So no effort had been made by the Antarans to colonise it and it remained essentially a lawless planet. Only now, as the technology improved was transport possible with a good probability of success. So it was that Wei contained a collection of species, from all around the galaxy each trying to survive among the ruins of the colony. It was mostly humans and Psilons, who both being very inquisitive by nature came within twenty meters of the ship where they huddled, behind blocks of concrete and wreaks of vehicles muttering to themselves about the arrival of there conquers.
However they weren't the closest to the Antaran craft. Scores of younger, eager and angry aliens clustered closer in a ring. Bulrathi and Mrrshan mostly, there warrior instincts screaming for revenge, though no-one was willing to get closer than was necessary to appear brave. A few of the youngest, believing it was some sort of game danced out of the assembled crowd, running a few steps closer to the ship than the last they would then dart backwards, thinking that the crowd would somehow protect them. Only the oldest and wisest realised that if the Antarans wanted them dead they wouldn't have to wait until the younger aliens were close to the ship. As they thought through this logic they realised that they could not think of a single reason why the all powerful Antarans would visit them.
The crafts single hatch opened from underneath the ship and down jumped a thin, almost skeletal structure. Electronic sensors linked to the ships own scanned the crowed as threat-assessment AI routines worked out where danger may come from. Keeping it's rifle trained on the crowed the robot advanced as a second landed be hind him, followed in rapid succession by four more. As they advanced on the crowed even the bravest began to draw back. Some of the children began to cry and were immediately escorted by terrified parents to the back. Then a large ladder descended from the hatchway, followed by a equally large alien. Lll-Vfah viewed the crowds from the supposed safety of being behind the robot-guards. He prayed that the crowed didn't realise that they could probably overwhelm him and his ship through sheer weight of numbers. "People of Wei." Lll-Vfah began. Hoping that by keeping the initiative he could maintain the image of Antaran supremacy. "I have a proposition for you."
"What would an Antaran want with us." Two of the guard robots turned, lightning fast to face the speaker. A old, battle-scarred humanoid stood, with a small collection of lackeys hiding behind him.
"I need a crew for a ship." After a second the scarred humanoid laughed, brief and nervous laughter echoed from the crowed. For a second Lll-Vfah was ready to forget about the mission and blast Wei Colony of the planet. He took a second to calm himself, he needed someone who wouldn't be immediately killed on Earth and who could infiltrate the supposed resistance cell there. True, Lll-Vfah could have simply created a genetic clone of a human and trained the creature for the mission. But the old Antaran Scientist had had to many problems working in the field of genetics' and cloning. To many bad experiences. "You do not need to know my reasons. Simply that failure to provide someone willing to work for me will result in obliteration of all living things on Wei. Now if you do not with to all die, I suggest that someone volunteer." For a while no-one did.
The silence was deafening, it even seamed that the Robots were getting edgy, the crowed to was murmuring, a deep throbbing sound which was slowly getting louder. Richardson guessed that if someone didn't volunteer soon, the situation was about to turn nasty. Of course if someone did then that was no guaranty against violence. No one wanted collaborators, seen as untrustworthy by those who commanded them and traitors by those who they left behind.
"Your not seriously thinking about it, are you?" Richardson ignored his lifelong friend, Rai for a moment, wishing for once that the old android farmers ability to read human emotions wasn't quite so good.
"If I don't what will happen." Richardson answered back.
"You will all be killed." Sometimes he decided It really paid to have someone logical to work out moral problems. Richardson began pushing himself to the front, faintly aware that the Antaran was saying something. Shouting broke out among the crowed and some people began to run away. Someone screamed as the Robot guards stayed perfectly still and within 30 seconds Richardson, along with Rai were the only ones who remained from the crowed. Four of the six robots, as well as the Antaran turned to face them.
"I suppose that you are either stupid or wish to save your people from destruction by volunteering?" The Antaran asked.
"Which ever one you want to pick." Richardson said with a winning smile that had no effect what so ever on the alien.
"Silence. From no one you, and your Android will follow my orders you understand?"
[ CONTINUED... Part 3 ]