Actron slammed a tentacle on the
console, and the claw on his left
ventral appendage opened and closed
spasmodically. A purple welt spread
on his tentacle where it had hit the console.
"What's wrong?" asked Zetal as he
sidled up to the console that Actron was
"The asteroid belt between the fourth
and fifth planets is more dense than we
believed. We have lost the external
camera. I fear that the probe and lander
have been damaged severely," he said.
"Are we receiving other data?" asked
"Yes, other telemetry is coming in.
The craft is still on target. The final
course corrections were sent to it days ago,
and it acknowledged receiving them.
Unfortunately it takes days for the data to
travel back and forth. We have to hope
that the remote lander will still function."
He rubbed the bruised area of his tentacle
with his middle ventral appendage, and it
began to feel better.
Pete Mullins had trouble sleeping. It
was one of those nights where the desert
seemed to hold its heat. He dragged his thin, tattered blanket out to the edge of
the small ridge near his crude cabin. He
swept the sky from horizon to horizon.
The sun was still an hour away from coming
up, and far away from city lights,
millions of stars shone in all their
glory. His dog Rover was at his side.
Mullins' skin was like leather-weathered
and dried by the sun and the heat of the
desert, and tanned to a deep brown. His
cowboy hat sat atop his head. It's front
was turned up, and in truth, it was more
dust and holes than felt. He struck a match
on a rock, and touched it to the cigarette
dangling loosely from his mouth. He took a
deep draught, and exhaled.
He was about to stroke Rover's head, when
something caught his attention to his right.
It was a fireball coming in low over the
mountain. It was shaped like a tear drop
laying on its side. Sparks trailed behind
it like some Fourth of July sparkler gone mad.
A high pitched whistle assaulted his ears.
The sound made Rover howl.
As he watched, a dark shape shot out of the
back of the object. It billowed and puffed
into the familiar shape of a parachute. The
object began to slow. He could hear the
flapping of the 'chute material as it fought
against the atmosphere. The object took a
sharp downward turn. It did not slow enough
to fall like a sky diver, but rather it skidded
across the desert floor, bouncing like a
smooth stone thrown across a pond. Finally it
came to rest not far from Mullins.
Rover was on his feet, ears back, and fangs
bared. Pete struggled to his feet as well,
and tossed his dusty blanket over his
shoulder. When the object stopped rolling,
it's outer shell, which resembled a soap
bubble blown by a child, slowly opened,
like some terrible clam waking from its
rest. Pete could hear the tinny sound of
metal grating on metal as it did.
"Dadburnit!" he said, as he spit tobacco
from the unfiltered cigarette on the ground.
"That's all I need is some damn UFO diggin'
in my back yard. Every one in the whole
stinkin' galaxy should know that this is my
claim by now. Come on Rover, we got work to
He walked back in the direction of his
small cabin. He stopped at the work table,
and picked up some items and put them in his
pocket. He picked up his prospector's axe,
and placed it in his belt. He and Rover
walked in a circle toward and behind the
object. He stayed low to the ground.
When he was about ten yards from the
object, it began emitting light, and a shrill
metallic sound. A tiny vehicle began moving
out of the open hull. It was about half of
the size of Rover. It had wheeled tracks,
and a cone shaped device perched atop a short
rod that was capable of rotating three
hundred and sixty degrees. The little
machine would travel a few feet, and then
stop. The cone would then rotate. It did
this with great regularity.
"Rover, you stay here, and watch my
backside," Mullins said. He covered himself
with his blanket, and inched his way in the
direction of the tiny robot. In the dark,
he blended in with the scenery. Indeed, it
was desert dust that thickly coated his
blanket. The pattern of traveling a few
feet, taking a visual survey for a few
seconds, and then stopping to process the
information continued. When Pete was sure
he had the timing right, he made his move.
He was quite light on his feet for a man
of his age. He pulled an old screwdriver
from the back pocket of his well dirty work
pants. The tip of the ancient tool had been
worn to a point from Mullins using it to
probe the desert rocks for ore samples.
He swung his right hand high over his head,
and jammed the screwdriver into the machine
just behind the rotating cone. It pinned
the cone, preventing it from any further
From his front pants pocket, he produced
a little cloth draw string bag. He deftly
slid it over the cone, and drew the string
tightly, thus blinding the machine. He then
pulled the screw driver out. The rover
seemed to go nuts, spinning in circles.
The whirring sound hit a fever pitch. He
waited for the tiny invader to settle down,
pulled a pair of leather work gloves from
another pants pocket, and slid them on.
He grabbed the machine, and holding it out
in front of him, walked back to his cabin.
He let out a whistle, and Rover ran to his
He approached his rough hewn wooden work
table, just as the first rays of the rising
sun were beginning to peek over the
mountains to the east. He chuckled to
himself as he knelt next to the table.
He carefully placed the rover on the ground,
then gingerly rolled it over and over. He
then lifted the machine shoulder high, and
then dropped it into a circular depression
alongside the table.
"We'll see how it likes the acid pit,
Rover," he said. The depression was where
he dumped the leftover acid after he
cleaned ore samples. Not quite up to
OSHA standards, but it definitely had its
uses. The lander hit the ground, and four
pads came out of each corner of the machine.
The pads dug into the ground to stabilize
the rover. A tiny door opened in the side
of the machine, and a scoop came silently
out. It reminded him of one of the buckets
on a piece of construction equipment. It
scooped up a sample of the soil from the
bottom of the acid pit, and brought it
back toward the machine. A second door
opened, next to the first, and a rod shaped
probe came forth and buried itself in the
Mullins was still laughing as he ran to
his crude storage shed. He came back to the
table with his arms full of equipment. He
dumped the stuff on the table. Working
quickly, he opened a glass jug, and poured
some of the contents into a sprayer. He
pumped the plunger a few times, and soon,
a shower of acid was playing over the
machine. It was making small holes into
the exotic metal skin of the rover.
After he was done, he poured some liquid
from a metal can around the machine, and,
lighting a match, tossed it into the liquid.
There was a loud whoosh as the gasoline
erupted. The flames danced around the
rover, engulfing it. The tracks that made
it mobile melted, leaving the rover sitting
at an odd angle. The rod that held the
cone shaped camera wilted. Mullins reached
for another cigarette. "Damn, Rover, that
was my favorite sample bag. I've been
using that for twenty years," he took a
couple of drags on the cigarette.
When he was done, he tossed the butt
aside, and walked over to the pit. He
knelt and felt to see whether the machine
had cooled off. When he was satisfied
that it had, he pulled his prospector's
axe from his belt, and using the curved
end, that he sharpened daily, began
whacking the machine. He could detect
no further lights or sound from the lander.
He snagged a part of the twisted metal
with the end of the axe, and gingerly
picked it up. He walked over to the shed,
and threw open the door. He tossed it on
the pile with the others. He replaced his
axe in his belt, and grabbed a shovel and
"Come on Rover. We should be able to
bury that parachute contraption, and smooth
out where it landed before those snoopy
meteor hunters and the feds get here," he
and the dog shuffled off in the direction
of the landing site.
Actron hovered over his console. He
began waving his tentacles with glee.
Zetal hurried over. "It's coming in--it's
coming in!" Actron was yelling. "The
lander survived--and it's transmitting."
Zetal slapped Actron on his dorsal
ridge with one of his tentacles. "The
Ruling Counsel of the Tarraskan Imperium
will honor you for your great work, Actron."
He was rubbing his tentacles together with
glee, when he noticed Actron frowning with
all three mouths. "What is it, now?" he
asked, sounding irritated.
Actron was shaking his brain case back
and forth. "It looked so promising. So
Blue. It had an atmosphere, it looked like
it had huge oceans. It would have been
perfect for the Imperium to colonize.
There should have been life there--maybe
even a sentient race to conquer!" he replied.
"We intercepted those primitive
transmissions with those simple creatures
with only four appendages," offered Zetal. "
We were sure they came from this system."
"It can not be. Nothing could live there.
The rain, and the ground are saturated with
acids. It began eating through the hull of the
rover. When the area came into the light from
the system's star, the temperature rose over
800 degrees before the rover succumbed to the
heat. We can not survive there! Nothing can.
We must look elsewhere," he looked downward
with his imagers.
"It's not your fault, Actron. Surely the
counsel will see that," said Zetal as if to
distance himself from his colleague, and his
failure. "I'm sure they will not amputate too
many appendages," added Zetal, not really sure
that he was correct.
The next day, Mullins and Rover sat on the
edge of the ridge once more. Men in four wheel
drive vehicles were combing the desert looking
for signs of the fire ball from the night before.
Pete took several long drags on the cigarette
before tossing it over the side. He picked up
his prospector's axe, and slid it into his belt.
"Ya know, Rover, we keep savin' the earth's
ass, and ya think, just once, in return, I
could find me a big ol' nugget. Not the
big nugget. Just one big enough to spend a
week in one of those fancy hotels in San
Francisco, or even Denver. Ya know with air
conditioning, and those machines that give you
real ice, whenever you want. Hell, we could
even find a fancy kennel for you. Come on,
Rover, we need to get back to work," said Pete
as they walked toward the hills.
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