Commander Jenkins scanned the ridge line, left to right. Behind him he heard Tuck Kinner release the safety on his 3600. He half turned toward him. “I said no weapons.”
“Just being prudent,” Tuck answered.
“Put it up.” From the lack of any sound Jenks knew Tuck hesitated. “Now.”
He heard the safety click back on. According to Mitch Turner, the Rabolli just wanted to talk. Not that he particularly trusted Mitch Turner, not after what he pulled.
He did a rough head count. Looked like there must be thirty Rabolli showing themselves. No telling how many waited just out of sight behind the ridge. He heard a quick intake of breath from Tuck – ah, there was Mitch, stepping into view, flanked by two of the natives.
“I suppose there is nothing but to get to it.” He half turned to his second in command. “If this is a trap, kill Turner.”
“My pleasure,” Tuck assured him.
He stepped away from the relative safety of the Rover and started up the slight incline. Sandy soil gave way under every step. It made for hard going, and by the time he met Mitch and the two Rabolli about midway he was out of breath. The thinner atmosphere of Eridani -3 didn’t help in that regard.
Eridani -3 was officially uninhabited, according to InterStell. Jenks still was not sure if the boneheads Earthside believed that to be true, or if they had all been lied to when the expedition took form. Not that it mattered now – the nearly 30 light years distance between mother Earth and Eridani ensured this was a one way trip. No interplanetary Marines would be rushing in to the rescue. He and his 1300 colonists were on their own. Somehow an accommodation had to be worked out.
He stopped about ten feet shy of the the trio coming down the hill. They paused. Turner gazed past Jenkins to assess the threat from the party gathered near the rover. The two Rabolli eyed Jenks with interest, a nearly sub-audible conversation playing back and forth between them. No one carried any weapons, at least not openly. The larger of the two aborigines took a step forward, clasped a hand over its thorax and spoke, seemingly addressing Jenks.
“What did he say?” Jenks asked.
Mitch drew his attention back to the immediate situation. “He says welcome, and blessings upon you.”
The Rabolli gazed from Jenks to Mitch then back again, apparently expecting a reply.
“Tell him thank you, and blessing upon him and his.”
“Hand to throat,” Mitch said. “It’s a sign of respect.” Jenkins returned the gesture as Mitch did the translation.
How Mitch ever leaned this sing-song half speech half musical language was beyond him. Three months in captivity apparently worked wonders in the eduction department.
The smaller of the two Rabolli then moved forward. It too covered its thorax. Jenks returned the gesture. It then launched into a long monolog, accompanied by many gesticulations of its arms, pointing at the rover, making sweeping motions with its hands.
“What was that all about?”
“I explained the situation to them,” Mitch said. “That we can’t leave, that we are beyond the reach of any assistance.”
“You did what?” The threat of reinforcements had been swept away.
“They outnumber us by about ten-thousand to one.”
Jenks didn’t like where this was going.
“The good news is, they are not interested in wiping us out.”
“As long as we accept their terms.”
“We can stay as long as we withdraw to the other side of the Namonnapii.”
Jenks looked back over his shoulder. The land on the other side of the Namonnapii desert was rough, less fertile. It would be a hardscrabble existence for years to come. But with the microbots and heavy equipment they would certainly be able to make a go of it.
“And they want our technology.”
This brought Jenks back round fast. “No way.”
Mitch just cocked his head to the side as if to say, oh yeah?
“We can’t give them our tech.”
“They could just take it from your cold dead hands.”
Jenkins began to bristle.
“Come on, Commander. You think they are going to be content to live in the stone age when they’ve seen what we can do? They are not interested in the weapons. They want electricity. Water pumps. Rovers. Medbots. In exchange they are willing to let you have the entire western coastline. Sounds like a deal to me.”
“You coming back with us?” Jenks asked.
“So you can hang me as a traitor? No thanks. I’ll stick around here and help ‘em figure out how things work.”
“You’re assuming I’ll agree.”
“So tell me you don’t.”
Jenkins stared at Mitch for a long time. Finally his shoulders slumped and he nodded. “OK, but no weapons.”
Mitch sing-songed to the two Rabolli after which the smaller of the two stepped forward and extended a hand. Jenks automatically extended his own and was surprised to find this creature’s handshake warm and firm.
“Eets sa pleesure dooing beesness id thoud,” it said, giving him a horrendous impersonation of a smile.
Mitch grinned. “They’re quick learners, Commander. Oh, and can you leave the Rover? They want to practice driving.”
© 2011 by J. M. Strother
Art by Lucianomendez via Wikimedia Commons.