Sunday, January 6, 2013

Science Fiction Story: Reluctant Asylum

Another science fiction story, one of my favorites. I got some of the place names by scrambling names of beverages.

Amy Perrodin’s real name was Amelia, and she had the misfortune to have been born Human. It wasn’t that being Human was actually a bad thing, but it did tend to bring with it certain disadvantages.

Like being at war with the Jdekkans.

Amy hadn’t asked for this war, and had never actually been able to figure out why it existed at all. There was the dispute over who owned the Anasid System, which was uninhabitable anyway and didn’t even have much in the way of natural resources. There had been the incident at Dlopna when a Human woman had falsely accused a Jdekkan platoon of attacking her without provocation. But that matter had been resolved years ago. Amy suspected the only real reason there was still a war was because neither side wanted to be the first to stop fighting.

And just for that, she and millions of other Humans lived in fear of the Stunt Monkeys.

It was the Stunt Squirrels that had the real firepower, and the huge ships proved a fearsome enemy in open space with their virtually impenetrable armor and immensely powerful weapons. But on a planet - or a moon, which was where Amy was now - one had to watch out for Stunt Monkeys. Like their namesakes, the smallish craft had amazing maneuvering capability. Unlike any monkeys Amy had ever seen, they could also kill you with mind-boggling accuracy in zero visibility over immense distances. If there was a Stunt Monkey in the area, it was best not to let its crew see you in the first place.

Which was why at this particular moment Amy was diving behind a dumpster. A Jdekkan Stunt Monkey had just appeared out of nowhere and was now coming down to land on the smooth surface of a dry lakebed only a hundred yards or so from where Amy had been standing.

Her hiding place wasn’t very good, because it was much too close to the Stunt Monkey; there was a very good chance that when the Jdekkans exited the craft, they’d happen across her. What they’d do after that, whether they’d capture her, torture her, kill her or all three, she didn’t feel like finding out.

She had ducked behind the dumpster as soon as she’d seen the Stunt Monkey, and now she crept away as quietly as she could manage, using a cargo van for cover first, and then stooping behind a hedge, and finally putting a large block building between herself and the Stunt Monkey. It was a college building, but she didn’t care about that.

Once she was far enough, she started running, and she figured she’d run until her lungs gave out. But that was before she ran into the Sbrade.

Luckily, she didn’t really, literally run into him. He’d been standing there, staring at the dust cloud raised by the Stunt Monkey and reaching his right hand into his leather bag, when Amy came out from behind a Ferdorian banana bush and saw him.

There was nothing unusual about this Sbrade’s appearance. He was about the size of the average Human man or slightly larger, and the long, matted hair on his head and the backs of his hands was mostly brown with patches of bright orange and smears of the sort of green that sometimes appears in mud puddles.

“The colors come from fungus and algae” her friend Luke had told her. Luke was a doctor, a physician like the Luke in the Bible, and he’d treated a few Sbrade before. He’d also gotten curious and swabbed their hair, studied it after they’d been gone.

The Sbrade saw her, looked right at her, and Amy stopped dead in her tracks. There were a few worse things in life than being spotted by the crew of a Stunt Monkey, and getting too close to a Sbrade could be one of them.

The real trouble with the Sbrade was the guilds. There were a gold guild and a medicine guild, a power cell guild and a titanium guild and a liquor guild and a fuel guild. There were at least eight guilds, Amy had read somewhere, but she didn’t know what the other two were. It was each guild’s mission to gain a monopoly on its product, and any action that helped the guild accomplish that goal was, to the Sbrade mind, good ethics. Conversely, anything that interfered with a guild’s mission was worthy of whatever punishment the insulted guild members might have in mind. And if you did something that didn’t affect the guild one way or the other, then in the Sbrade moral code it didn’t register at all. If it didn’t affect business, then it was nobody’s business.

And you could be pretty sure that any Sbrade you met was in a guild, since rumor had it that Sbrade who refused to join were generally hunted down and killed.

When the Sbrade saw her, his grimy face erupted in a leering smile, two rows of large slimy yellow teeth suddenly appearing beneath a food-encrusted mustache.

She turned and ran back to the Stunt Monkey.

When she got there, three or four Jdekkans had come out and seemed to be doing some sort of security check before clearing the rest of the crew to disembark. She put her hands up when she saw them, in a quick gesture to show that she didn’t want to cause trouble, and kept running. There was a stairway leading up to the Stunt Monkey, like the stairways they’d been using on Earth ever since the age of the primitive aero-planes, and at the top, of course, was a Jdekkan guard. She ran to the base of the stairs and stopped.

She had intended to make a convincing, very logical appeal for asylum, or at least for temporary shelter, but when she tried to speak she found that she’d lost the ability. She was so out of breath that all she could do was pant.

The guard laughed, dashed down the stairs and helped her up them. She didn’t need help; she was tired from running but she could manage the stairs just fine. The guard, though, had his hands all over her. She realized with satisfaction that he was searching her for weapons in the most time-saving way possible, getting her into the relative safety of the Stunt Monkey without delay.

They came to the top of the stairs and he led her to a room and shut the door. It almost looked like a sort of alien living room, with some low chairs and couches and small tables. And beyond them, in the end of the room opposite the door, there was some sort of equipment Amy didn’t recognize.

“Feel free to sit down when you’re ready,” said the Jdekkan, “but I think you should walk back and forth until your heartbeat slows down.”

Amy had heard this before, that your heart could explode if you stopped moving just after a hard enough run. She figured the walk up the stairs had been enough to remove her from that danger, but even so she paced among the furniture.

The Jdekkan crossed the room, opened a sort of mini-bar and after a few moments came back with two tall glasses, one full of blue liquid and one full of brown. He handed her the brown one. “I believe you call it cola,” he said, “but I don’t know how authentic it is. The Human-food line is new, and I hope it’s a sign that this war is losing momentum.”

They both sat down, him in a chair and her on a couch, with something like a coffee table between them.

“Meet a Sbrade, did you?” he asked.

She sipped her drink. It tasted good. She nodded.

“How do you know we’re going to treat you any better?”

She looked at him. Beneath those flawless good manners the Jdekkans were famous for, he was staring at her just like the Sbrade had been, like a cat who’s just cornered a mouse. She sighed. “At least you appear to bathe,” she said.

The Jdekkan sipped his drink. “I do have the official obligation to ask you for your story.”

“Of course,” Amy replied. So this was an interrogation, then. She tried not to think about the equipment in the end of the room. “My name is Amelia Perrodin, and I’m originally from Earth,” she began. After a moment she shrugged and admitted, “I don’t know what you want me to tell you.”

“What’s your business on Okce?”

Okce, the moon with the difficult name, where she’d been for only the past four hours. “I hitched a ride,” she told him. “Somebody was delivering a shipment of rice and let me ride along.”

He just looked at her and didn’t speak, but his face told her that the answer wasn’t satisfactory.

“I’d wanted to get out of where I was,” she explained, “and there was room for me on the rice transport, so I grabbed the opportunity.”

“Why didn’t you remain on the rice transport?”

“I wasn’t welcome. The pilot told me she could take me only as far as this stop, because after that she was meeting her boss, and she’s not really supposed to carry passengers.” Amy hoped she wasn’t getting the pilot in trouble, but she supposed not. The pilot wasn’t Jdekkan, after all.
“Where did you board the rice transport, and why did you want to get out of there?”

“Respion Station,” she answered, “because I heard there was a Human patrol on the way.”

The Jdekkan’s eyebrows went up.

“I’m wanted by my government,” Amy continued. She wondered if that would make him like her or make him want to turn her in.


“They’re abusing their own people and I’d be a traitor if I didn’t try to stop it.”

The Jdekkan nodded, like he understood, and like he wasn’t drawing any conclusions yet. “Why did you hide behind the dumpster, and then run?” he asked.

She smiled, a little embarrassed. “I guess I wasn’t really hiding, after all, was I? Well, to tell you the truth, until I saw the Sbrade, I didn’t want you to see me. I was about to go into that college building, see if they had a Student Union or something where I could maybe get some lunch, maybe if I was lucky even make a friend. And then I saw your Stunt Monkey and it was already almost - “

“Miss Perrodin,” the Jdekkan interrupted.


“You will please refrain from using derogatory terms on this ship,” he demanded.

“Um,” Amy responded, stupidly, “sure. Did I?”

The Jdekkan sighed. “This ship is not a Stunt Monkey.”

“Oh,” said Amy, “I’m sorry. I really thought that was its name.”

He shook his head. “It is called a Stahn Temekka. Translated, it is Planet Machine.”

“Oh, you’re kidding, I had no idea. So, I would hate to make the same mistake again…”

He allowed himself an amused smile. “If you are attempting to refer to the Stunt Squirrel, it does not exist, either. It is called the Stahn Seco-il, which is the Jdekkan way to say Star Machine.”

“It might take me a while to learn these names,” said Amy diplomatically. What she was really thinking was, these Jdekkan ship names were worse than the name of the moon she was on, and she wasn’t sure she’d ever be able to get her Human mouth to say them.

He shrugged. “You will learn them in time, or you will not,” he replied. “In the meantime you will please either try to use their names, or else use the translations, Planet Machine and Star Machine.”

“Of course,” Amy agreed. She wondered what the consequences would be if she forgot and used the offending terms. She wondered if she should ask, and then decided against it.

“I’ll need to take a blood sample,” he said, getting up and walking to the equipment in the end of the room. “No need for you to move, unless you want to. I just need a few things.” He came back with a small bag, set it on the coffee table, and settled down in a sort of squatting crouch with his right knee on the front of the couch beside her and his left foot on the floor in front of her.

She looked up at him and realized this whole situation would be slightly less scary if she had something to call him. “I don’t even know your name,” she said.

“Kraja,” he replied. “I will take the sample from a vein on the inside of one of your elbows, unless you object.”

“Kraja?” she asked, not sure if she’d heard him right.

“Yes, Kraja. I am responsible for ship security.”

“So, I have the right to object?”

“You have the right to request that I use a different vein, if you wish. I will take the sample, in any case.”

“Oh,” Amy said, trying to sound disappointed. The truth was, she’d never really gotten her hopes up. She’d figured that ever since she’d arrived at the bottom of the stairway - ever since she’d been seen by that Sbrade, actually - she’d stopped having any say in what happened to her. She pulled her left sleeve up and gave him her arm.

He took the sample skillfully, and it didn’t hurt, not really. More importantly, he was meticulous about his sanitary procedures. But then, he was Jdekkan: he probably brushed his teeth the same way.

“We won’t be here long,” he told her, injecting the blood sample into a port in a large black machine in the end of the room. “Our cook wanted to make a small purchase of human foods, including rice. We’ll be lifting off in a few minutes.”

Amy nodded. “Do I get to ask where we’re headed?”

“Jdekka,” he answered, “by a circuitous route. We’d rather avoid the Human patrols, too.”

Amy was surprised. “I didn’t think you’d have to worry about that, in a Stunt Monk--“ Now she’d said it, and she could see by the look in his face that he wasn’t going to let it slide. She’d been warned, and now it was time to face the music.

“Stahn Temekka,” he corrected.

She nodded, and tried to repeat it, but her mouth wouldn’t obey her and her voice remained silent.

“I’ll have to punish you now,” he said solemnly, coming back from the black machine, his task done. “Stay here. I’ll tell the guards to prepare the tub of dry ice.”

Amy swallowed. For some reason, she wanted him to see her remain dignified. She didn’t want to throw up on the couch.

He laughed and touched her arm reassuringly. “You shouldn’t believe all your government’s propaganda,” he said. “But if you persist in forgetting, you may find that I begin to forget my own manners as well. Do not be surprised if I - accidentally of course - introduce you to the crew as a Terran Hairworm.”

Note: I answered a call from to write just the first chapters for several novels, and Reluctant Asylum is one of them. If you'd like to contribute a chapter to Reluctant Asylum, or check out the other novels-in-progress at Chainbooks, click here.

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