The day finally came when the Troop embarked on their mission to L4. Many of the families came to see the Troop off. Dafyd and Athena’s entire home came to the South Pole for the occasion, as did Joman.
Athena and Joman spent long minutes embracing each other before the final departure. Dafyd had time to hug and kiss all his grandparents, Roesa and Jeri. He even hugged MAV’s parents before Joman finally let go of his sister. She said the rest of her goodbyes and boarded quickly.
The actual departure was several hours after the airlock closed and the voidcarts carried the Troop out to the ship. Explorers scampered everywhere making last minute preparations. Wyly got Alpha patrol situated with their billets and then herded them all back into the voidcart.
“We are going to make a last fly around the ship.” Wyly said as he prepared to leave the hanger.
“What are we checking for?” MAV asked.
“Anything unusual or out of the ordinary. You Recruits have flown around this ship enough to know what wrong looks like.” He smiled and eased the craft out.
Once they were outside he slid over and moved Dafyd in the pilot seat.
“Keep it very close to the ship. We need to be able to detect any problems.”
Dafyd said nothing but moved the cart expertly. Wyly moved back to adjust the various monitors. He assigned every one to one of the monitors. “The more eyes the better.”
The sails were being spun very slowly to extend them from their containers. Dafyd moved around them and then back down the other side. They were now on a side between the ship and the outer hull of New Virginia. All the other activity of the spabitat was on the other side of the ship.
“We’re supposed to look for anything unusual?” Lina asked.
“Yup.” Wyly said.
“This looks unusual.”
“Oh my gah.” Jillyn added and covered her mouth.
“The Space Monkeys are attacking!” Lina shrieked.
“What?” Wyly was at their monitor in a half moment. He adjusted a few things.
“Dafyd turn the craft…”
“Already on it.” Dafyd interrupted as he turned the voidcart to point in the direction of Lina’s field of view without actually going in that direction. The front windows filled with dozens of writhing, flashing Space Squid all coming right at them.
“What is this?” Nubia asked. Wyly shook his head in confusion.
“Should I leave?” Dafyd asked.
“No. The dosidcus are peaceful, besides they have no weapons. How could they damage us? I want to see what they want.”
“Bad idea.” MAV said. Dafyd knew that they had no weapons either and flight was their only option. He was ready to move as soon as Wyly gave the word.
Wyly was frantically adjusting Lina’s monitor. “I’m going to the University of Chicago next year to study the culture of the dosidcus. I’ve got a program in here that sort of translates their speech.”
“What do you mean ‘sort of?’” Lina asked.
“We only understand about fifty percent of their language.”
The squid were getting closer. They were flashing violently. Colors rippled and flew all around, up and down their bodies and out to each hooked filled tentacles.
“What are they saying?” Jillyn asked.
“It’s too much for the program. It’s overwhelmed.”
The first squid reached the craft. They gripped it and moved along to the rear. They could hear the scratching and scrapping along the hull.
“Now Wyly? Can we fly now?” Dafyd asked.
“This isn’t right.” Wyly shot up to the window and pressed his face forward.
More of the squid arrived at the little cart and it started to rock back and forth.
“I don’t think they are signaling for attack.” Wyly said. “Blue is their angry color, not red.”
“Can’t we call for help or something?” Lina asked.
“Can we leave?” Dafyd said.
“MAV, let the Whippin Post know what’s going on.” Wyly said.
The craft listed to port.
“Can we tell them we’re the good guys?” Jillyn asked.
“That’s it!” Wyly shouted and darted back to Lina’s computer. He reprogrammed it frantically.
Dafyd saw that one particularly large squid had positioned himself on the front window and was almost flashing like police mars lights. The cabin was lit up with it.
“Wyly?” MAV said looking out the window.
“Right. That’s the leader.”
“He doesn’t look happy.”
The cart shook violently. There was a crack and a hissing sound. Lina and Jillyn screamed. Nubia called for Wyly. MAV moved to the area the hissing was coming from.
“Hold on! Hold on. I’m trying to send them a message.” Wyly said. “I’m setting up a hologram.”
MAV tried to open the cowling. He had a multitool in his hand. He got the cowling open. The hissing sound got louder. MAV bent over the multitool to program it. His hair was being sucked toward the cowling.
There was a thud at the back hatch.
“I’m going to move out.” Dafyd said.
“No! Just one more moment.” Wyly said. “Here.”
A hologram squid appeared outside the front windows. The colors were mostly greenish. The rocking slowed.
“I’m trying to tell them we are friends, but don’t understand.”
The craft stopped rocking. Some of the squid noticed the hologram and alerted the others. Finally the leader turned to watch the hologram.
MAV got the hissing stopped.
The leader watched for a moment and then signaled the others. The colors dimmed and stopped flashing. Fe had quieted the others down. The leader then signaled slowly and deliberately.
The computer translator program began to speak. Wyly turned up the volume.
“Friends. We friends, you friends. We fear robots. Robots kill valgae. Robots kill squid. Help fight robots? We need help. Friends.”
“What does that mean?” Nubia asked.
“I don’t know.” Wyly said. He typed something into the computer.
Outside the squid were not signaling actively, but they looked very agitated.
“I’ll ask them what robots.” Wyly said.
The holo-squid signaled. The leader responded.
“Robots come from away. Different robots. New robots.”
“Different robots? Different from what?” Dafyd asked.
“Different from the normal maintenance bots?” MAV said.
“I suppose.” Wyly said.
“Can we go back to the ship now?” Lina asked.
Just then, from over the horizon several more Space Monkeys scrambled, followed closely by two crab looking robots. These robots were shooting some kind of projectiles.
The squids had their shells down over their backs as they scrambled over the valgae-covered landscape. They would throw their two very long tentacles out ahead of themselves. Occasionally they would flinch as one of the projectiles would hit.
The robots moved with their legs and with tethers they shot out ahead of themselves. The tethers were much longer than the squids’ tentacles and the robots were gaining on them.
“They’re shooting at them!” Jillyn said.
“What can we do?” Nubia asked.
MAV was working at a computer. He was the best programmer in school and a wizard at nanotech. “I don’t think these robots are part of the fleet. I can’t communicate with them at all.”
Just then one of the running squid retracted one tentacle and the humans could see blood spurting.
“Move.” Wyly said to Dafyd as he pushed him out of the pilot seat. Wyly took the controls and the cart jumped forward and up. “Hold on!”
They were clear of all the surrounding squid and on a ballistic course for the fleeing squid. In an instant they were moving at full speed. The ground flew past faster than any of the Recruits could imagine. The arc of their flight was bringing them back down. The robots were still focused on the squid. The voidcart came down just in front of them. Between the robots and squid. It continued forward fast. The projectiles were now bouncing off their hull. In less than a heart beat the robots and the cart hit head-on.
There were a pair of crunches and thumps. The cart bounced off the surface of the spabitat. Robot arms were flying in all directions. A loud hiss started coming from under the control panel.
“Where are they?” Wyly shouted.
“Left.” Dafyd said. “Their still active.”
Wyly spun the craft, brought he nose up and she bounced away from the tat. Again they moved in a fast parabola and the next crunch was the back end of the void cart landing on the robots.
As soon as they made contact Wyly gunned it and they cart rocketed out away from the tat with enough force to shoot all the passengers to the back hatch.
Even as they were still moving away from the tat Wyly spun them around to get a look at the robots. There was a scorched spot in the valgae with two piles of metal slowly drifting up from the surface.
“MAV, can you tell if they’re dead?” Wyly asked.
“Their dead.” MAV reported.
“I think we are too.” Dafyd said. His ears were popping from the falling pressure.
Wyly looked at the fuel readout. They were just about out, but they had their emergency supply. He ran a diagnostic on the engines. Two small attitude engines were completely inoperable. The main engines and a few of the others were at about fifty percent.
“We’re going to fly a little crooked, but we can get back.” He looked at life support. Oxygen was questionable.
“MAV can you do that thing you did before and fix this leak?”
“I can try.” He bent down and took the cowling off from under the control panel. The hissing became a whooshing. He slammed it back.
“Maybe we can weld the whole cowling.” Dafyd said. He had crouched down to see if he could help.
“I don’t know how to do that.” MAV said.
“I’ve got some tape.” Jillyn said and pulled it out of a large bag she always carried with her.
“Dafyd, bring us back. Jillyn, you fix the leak. MAV inform New Virginia Exterior Patrol about the robots.” Wyly said and got up out of the seat.
Dafyd slid into the seat. Jillyn started working on the cowling. Nubia bent to help her. MAV went to one of the terminals and Wyly went to another.
“What are you doing?” Lina asked him.
“I’m sending a message to the leader of the squid.”
Lina looked and saw that the squid that had scattered when the cart moved were now regrouping around their injured comrade. Wyly made the holo-squid appear near the surface.
“I’m telling them that we will investigate and we want to talk to the leader.”
The leader watched the message and then pushed off towards them. The squid had a limited ability to rocket around by expelling gasses trapped in their body. Fe did that and finally caught up with their cart. Fe gripped the outside and hung on for the ride. The translator squawked.
“I come with you.”
And then, “thank you.”
Dafyd flipped on the communicator. “Whippin Post this is voidcart one. We are coming back heavily damaged.”
“What happened?” It was Athena’s voice.
“It’s complicated, but we had a fight with some Space Squid and a couple of robots. We may need some assistance.”
“Do you want the other cart to meet you or do you need more help than that?”
Dafyd scanned his instruments. “I think an escort from Cart Two would be fine.”
“Cart Two is on the way.”
The hissing turned into a high-pitched whistle.
“We can’t completely patch the leak.” Jillyn said.
Wyly moved to the control panel and tapped it a few times. “Rate of loss is low enough. We should be fine. Everybody stop breathing for a while.”
Wyly went back to his monitor and composed another message.
“Robots try make us do bad things.” The translator barked in response to the message.
“Try to make us kill tat. We no want kill tat flaberti ginner bee jjibberdi thich...”
“That means that the translator doesn’t understand. There is too much emotion.”
“Did those robots have a communicator like you Wyly? How did they try to make the squid do anything?” MAV asked.
Wyly shook his head thoughtfully. “This is going to take some time.”
“Cart One this is Cart Two we have you on visual. My god what happened? You’re listing awfully.” It was Jenny el Chavez-Kim the troop quartermaster.
“We know. It’s kind of hard to steer, but we’re okay.”
“You’re leaking something.”
“We know that too. It’s cabin air, but we’ll be okay with a tow. It’s making it hard to steer too.”
“Why do you have a squid on your butt?”
“That’s going to take a little more explaining.” Dafyd noticed that she said “squid” and not Space Monkey, which is what everyone at school called them.
“I hope this doesn’t delay our departure. We don’t want to miss our window.”
She swung her voidcart so that the cargo door was up against the front of Cart One. The door opened and Chet O’Cohen-Sato stood in the door wearing a veesuit. It was gray and looked like a wetsuit with a spherical glass helmet. The helmet was frosted so they couldn’t see his face, but COS was printed in large letters on his chest and no one else in the troop moved as easily in a veesuit. He was the champion zero gee martial artist in the spabitat.
Chet quickly tethered Cart One to Cart Two and they were moving again. They were going much faster, but Dafyd still had to steer in order to follow the other voidcart smoothly.
When they arrived back at the Whippin Post there was a tender from Exterior Patrol docked alongside. Jak O’Christian-Newton, the Troopmaster who insisted on being called Jak was waiting just inside the hatch as they exited. He was flanked by two Patrol Officers.
“Wyly this is Officer DIM and Officer QAT. What happened out there?”
DIM was exactly what you’d expect in a police officer: tall, broad shouldered, square jawed, heavy brow ridge. QAT was just the opposite. Fe was small and gracile. QAT looked even more like a pre-pubescent youth than any of the Recruits. QAT was a GE eunuch. Before birth fis parents had decided that it was more important to concentrate on making something out of fis life than worrying about having children. GEE were rare and few of the Recruits had seen one in person.
“The dosidcus were attacked by some rogue robots. They came to us for help and we destroyed the robots.”
“You destroyed patrol robots?” QAT asked in a light voice.
“They weren’t patrol robots Officer QAT.” MAV said. “I checked.”
“Then where did they come from?”
“We don’t know, but the leader of the dosidcus came back with us.” Wyly said.
The officers looked uncomfortable.
“You brought a squid back with you?” Jak said.
“How and why did you convince a dosidcus chief to come with you?” QAT asked.
“I’m not sure chief is the correct term Officers. I think elder would be a more appropriate title.”
“You’ve studied dosidcus?” QAT asked nervously.
“WUB-san has a scholarship to study them at the University of Chicago next fall.” Jak said.
“Do you know a Professor V…”
“Professor Vaughn? Yes. We’ve been corresponding for over a year. She’s going to be my advisor. I got my translator from her.”
“No one in New Virginia knows more about squid than WUB here.” Jak said.
DIM bent down to whisper in QAT’s ear. QAT nodded.
“Commodore JON as we understand this situation, you are on a strict deadline and would like to leave for L4. One of your voidcart was involved in a situation where several dosidcus approached them, presumably to seek assistance and were attacked by private, rogue robots. They destroyed the robots, damaging their own cart in the process, but not causing any deaths or injuries. If there is no damage to New Virginia property then we have no reason to keep you. We would like a full and complete investigation to avoid similar situations so we propose this: we take this young man to the incident site for a brief inspection to verify that no damage was done to the spabitat or its equipment, and hopefully identify the robots. This will be complete before you departure window closes. We will have to stay in communication with you and your crew. A full report will also have to be made.”
“Of course we will assist the investigation as best we can.” Jak said.
“If WUB does have the Vaughn translator he is better equipped to discover the nature of the event from the, um, elder than anyone else on New Virginia.” QAT said.
“You are aware that Professor Vaughn is at L4 right now?” DIM asked.
“Yes. I was planning on meeting with her when we got there.”
“That’s a good plan. We will of course require all the records from your cart as well.”
“I can take care of that.” MAV said.
“Good. Now if you will come with us and show us the incident site WUB-san.”
“Actually, officers, I think I should stay here. If I am going to get any information out of the elder it will take quite a bit of time and that would be best done en-route to L4. Therefore I need to convince the elder to come with us. That alone will take some time. May I suggest DOM-san as a guide?” He slapped Dafyd’s shoulder.
“Yes. I can do that.” Dafyd said.
QAT looked at him a long moment. “Yes. Come with us.”
They boarded the prowler and returned to the exact spot that Wyly had killed the robots. The valgae was damaged and there were robot pieces stuck here and there, but no damage to the spabitat itself.
While the officers were doing a thorough check for damages, Dafyd did his own scan for the robots. Even though the spin of the spabitat had sent them away from the surface they should have still been around. The spabitat did have some gravity and they were pushed very hard. There was no sign of them anywhere. Dafyd decided that they must have drifted over the horizon.
“I’m convinced.” DIM said. QAT turned the prowler and returned to port. As they left Dafyd looked back and noticed a few squid looking hesitantly from under very small cover. Though this looked like open plains there were small hiding places, if you knew where and how to hide.The activity on the Whippin Post was doubled after the Exterior officers left. Wyly was successful in convincing the elder to come to L4 with them, and the damaged voidcart was swapped out with the troop’s other cart. It was an older model and barely worked anymore, but it worked better than Cart One. They moved out for L4 with an old voidcart and an old dosidcus.