(Author’s Note)… I guess I don’t have much to say. If you aren’t reading this, you aren’t reading it.
“There, there, and there,” said the Warlord, flicking a tentacle tip at three dots on the scanner screen. “Those are the commanders, at the base of the three large, inverted-V formations. That makes that one,” the tentacle tip flicked to another dot, “the fleet commander.” The three V’s were in a line, side by side, open mouths aimed at Earth. The single dot indicated by the Warlord was the one at the rear of the center V.
“Okay,” Arthur said, getting up from the pilot’s seat. “Take over. Get us as close as you can.” As he went to join Gup and the General, he paused and said over his shoulder, “I don’t know how close we can get without being picked up on their scanners, and I don’t know how close we need to be exactly to use the transport beam, so get ready to do some fancy driving.”
Gup and the General were flying one of the tiny insectoid surveillance bugs around the cabin using a small thumb operated joy stick on a small hand-held remote pad. Gup had the pad in one hand. The drone silently buzzed over and hovered a foot or two in front of Arthur’s face. Arthur looked past the tiny thing and saw his own face on the monitor screen on a small control panel the General was fiddling with. He tried to refocus on the flying speck and it took him a few seconds to find it even though he knew it was there. He grinned fiercely. The bugs were practically invisible.
“That’s good flying, Gup,” said Arthur to the blue tech wizard. “Now let’s see if I can figure out how to get it where it needs to go.” He had tried to get some help figuring out the procedure for long-range precision transport beaming by slipping his hand into the sports bag that nestled under the pilot’s seat. But once again the memory stone and the Pickles had been unable or unwilling to help directly. So, it would have to be trial and error.
It played out like some kind of reality game show where contestants had to perform a whacky stunt for cash and prizes. Just beam a tiny bug from a fast-moving ship in space right onto the bridge of another ship moving at equal speed. They lost a few bugs before they figured out how to slave the remote-control unit to the ships scanner array. Another bug twinkled and disappeared, and there it was, flashing a pulsing view of the bridge of the enemy ship onto the monitor. But was it the right enemy ship?
Gup moved the drone to a high corner in the back of the bridge and spun it around. On the monitor, the bridge panned past in a wide fish-eye view. And there he was, sitting in the captain’s chair set on a raised dais like Captain James T. Kirk commanding the Enterprise. Even though he could only see the back of his head and his shoulders, Arthur could tell it was him. He gave Gup and the General a ferocious grin.
“Should I move the bug closer just to make sure?” Gup asked.
“No, I think I ought to be able to recognize myself, even from the back. His hair is still long. What a loser. I gave that up in my mid-forties. Show us how many crewmen on the bridge, buddy,” Arthur ordered politely.
Gup wiggled his thumb and the view panned as the bug rotated in the air.
“I make out twelve targets, all human,” said the General at his little console.
“Can we not call them targets?” said Arthur tightly. “I doubt many of them want to be here. We need to bear that in mind.” He had a sudden thought. “I wonder if this entire first wave is human. That would suit Fahh’s sense of humor. Totally expendable forces to test our defenses. Put them in outmoded ships to die for their emperor.”
“The ships are all light vessels, frigate and destroyer sized,” said the Warlord from the cockpit. “That supports your theory.”
“None of the bridge crew is armed, as far as I can tell,” the General pointed out. “There are no armed troopers in sight, as there should be on a warship going into battle.”
“There must be armed troops aboard, at least a security detail that could reach the bridge in case of trouble,” Arthur guessed. “But we can’t just pop straight over to their bridge, because we will be helpless before we finish materializing. That is why I brought those guys.” He pointed at the five war robots standing like silent sentinels.
He turned and walked to stand before the closest of the battle machines. “I am Arthur Blacke,” he said to it, as Tarlek Da’s instructions had told him to do.
The robots red eyes gleamed.
“I am designating you as ‘Number One’. Number One, respond.” Arthur felt a little silly and sort of cool at the same time, talking to a robot that was armed to the teeth, to use a not-quite appropriate expression.
“Number One is operational,” said the robot. Arthur couldn’t help laughing. Tarlek Da had used Izalie’s voice in the robot’s synthesized speech unit. To hear the deadly looking machine speaking in a sweet little girl’s voice just struck him as hilarious.
He activated two more of the robots, designating them ‘Number Two’ and ‘Number Three’. The mechanical killers eyed him calmly with their disquietingly feral optical sensors, awaiting his commands.
“Number One, you are equipped with non-lethal weapons, correct?” Arthur asked. “Specifically, non-lethal to humans?”
“Yes,” replied the robot. “One launcher is loaded with hard rubber projectiles. We are also carrying electro-net launchers.”
Arthur still found it difficult not to laugh at the cute, girlish voice issuing from the armored soldier. He didn’t know exactly what an electro-net was, but he didn’t care, as long as it could incapacitate a human without killing. “Number One, I am sending you on an important mission. I will remain in contact with you, but there are some rules you need to follow. First, I want you to avoid killing anyone or anything, even in self defense, unless I specifically order you to do so.”
“Yes, Sir,” replied the robot sweetly.
Arthur went on speaking. “You are instructed to follow only my orders unless I place another being in command of you.”
“Yes, Sir,” came the reply.
Now for the tricky part, Arthur thought. “There is a human where I am sending you. He looks and sounds like me, but he is not me. He has longer hair and is wearing a black uniform. You will ignore any orders from that human. If you have any doubts about which of us is speaking, you will obey only my orders sent directly to you through this control device.” He held up the small remote unit that Tarlek Da had given him. It allowed him to communicate directly with the robots, or override any of the robots actions if the need arose. “Do you understand?”
“Yes, Sir,” the robot answered once again.
“You are being sent to the control bridge of a space craft,” Arthur continued the briefing. “There will be twelve humans there, and more might show up before you are reinforced. You must order the humans not to move or to touch or use any of the controls on the bridge. If they disobey you, you are authorized to use non-lethal force to control them. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Sir,” the robot responded.
Arthur had one last thing to say. “You are not going to be able to move while we are sending you to the enemy ship, but I don’t want you to panic. It won’t last more than ten or twenty seconds. Do you understand?”
And once again the robot only had one thing to say. “Yes, Sir.”
“Is everybody ready?” Arthur asked his brave crew. Everyone replied in the affirmative. Rubar’s boys were so ready they could only snarl in anticipation. “That no-killing order goes for you, too, unless it is absolutely unavoidable,” Arthur told them severely. He received sheepish grins and nods in return. “Okay, let’s do this,” he said, and punched the button on the transport remote. The robot designated as Number One began to shimmer and wink in and out of visibility.
“I see him on the screen,” said the General. “He looks like he might be coming in a little high.”
“I didn’t want to send him into the deck,” Arthur explained. “Better safe than sorry.” He went over to join the General at the control panel for the surveillance drone.
“They spotted Number One,” the General pointed out. On the monitor they could see crewmen pointing and turning to look at their unexpected visitor.
“Turn up the sound on the bug, Gup,” Arthur requested. So far, the humans on the other ship seemed too surprised to react. Now they could hear the excited babbling of the enemy crewmen coming through the speaker in the console.
The General pointed with a tentacle tip at the monitor. “That one is turning to his station, most likely alerting their security team.”
Arthur watched the monitor in absolute fascination as the enemy commander got up from his command chair and turned towards the materializing robot. I’ll be damned, he thought. “My hair is so grey. And I look kind of fat.”
“They say the camera adds ten pounds,” said Gup with a grin. Arthur shot him a nasty look.
In the foreground of the screen the robot finished its strange journey. Then it fell about a foot to the deck, effortlessly absorbing the shock with its flexible track pods. “Cease all movement. Do not utilize any equipment,” Number One commanded, the orders made incongruous by the little girl voice.
“Rubar, time to go,” Arthur shouted. He made sure that he and the three Reavers were all touching each other and pushed the remote button once more. Rubar and two Reavers, holding needle guns at the ready, began to exist in two places at one time.
On the monitor Arthur and the General watched the human who had turned back to his station. He was clearly whispering into a microphone but they could not hear what he was saying. There was a popping sound and a black object streaked from the robot to connect solidly with the side of the human’s head. He slumped in his chair without a sound other than the loud thump of the rubber bullet as it impacted his skull.
Another human didn’t stand quite still enough to suit the robot. It launched a small packet that split open in midair, spreading into a three-foot-across circular web of glittering microfilament metallic netting. It wrapped around the human’s torso and emitted blue sparks. This human also dropped, to twitch spasmodically on the deck. Rubar and his two compatriots finished flickering and also dropped a foot or two to the deck of the bridge. No one else on the enemy bridge was stupid enough to try moving.
“Now it’s my turn,” said Arthur, grinning from ear to ear. “If you think they were surprised before, wait till they see me.” And with that, he transported himself and two more of Rubar’s boys to the other ship.