Trouble on Gaq 7


Thomas Lee Joseph Smith

Three days after the signing of the articles of exchange to formalize a trading relationship between Earth and Gaq 7, a great gathering of merchants and workers and simple townsfolk streamed into the valley that had been chosen as the single point of contact between the two worlds. In that valley, surrounded by mountains pink with dust, all ships from Earth would land; and through that valley, all goods from Earth and all goods bound for Earth would flow.

The celebration on Gaq 7 was a simple one. Most of the families came at dawn and brought their own food and drink. There were jugglers and artists, but also many who entertained themselves playing a game that seemed reminiscent of three games once played on Earth by small children. This Gaq game combined the speed and agility of the game, "Statues" with the surprise and drama of a good game of "Peek-a-boo" -- and the dignified restraint of just flat-out tickling someone till they almost peed themselves.

Dalton Diamond and Percy Falcon smiled down at the huge crowd of aliens from the platform that had been built beside their tall silver spacecraft. They had finished with their presentations and speeches; it was almost time to depart.

Both men were wearing space suits but not helmets. The air on Gaq 7 was just fine, almost invigorating.

Bleet, the Gaq chosen to accompany Diamond and Falcon back to Earth, stood between the two men, also smiling at the crowd. But Bleet's smile was an imitation of Dalton's and Percy’s so it looked forced and strained; his mouth was too small and too round to comfortably stretch so far. The size of his head and his single eye made his mouth and barely-visible nose seem even smaller.

Despite the falseness of his smile, Bleet was happy to have negotiated an agreement. Bleet's head was very big. Bleet was an important individual, maybe a king or maybe an elected official. The men from Earth hadn't exactly figured out Bleet's position in Gaq society, but they knew it commanded respect and obedience from all the other Gaqs they had met. In fact, part of the celebration was to say goodbye to Bleet, who had learned more English than any other Gaq --enough to carry on simple conversations with Diamond and Falcon, who had learned almost nothing of the Gaq language.

Somewhere a band was playing. Dalton looked around and then looked down; the band was under the platform. Nothing he saw looked like any instrument he knew, but the music was pleasant enough. A sudden gust of wind made Dalton look up and place his hands in front of his face. The breeze passed down the valley; its progress could be followed as it scooped up dust and carried it away.

Dalton leaned forward, looked past the tall alien, and addressed Percy. "The ceremony went pretty good," he said. "I'm not used to public speaking."

"I was worried for a moment when they all picked up sticks and came running towards the platform."

"Purely ceremonial." Percy said, hoping he was correct. During the crowd's unexpected advance, he had thought for a second that he'd said something the crowd hadn't liked. Since he had been sounding out the Gaq words without understanding them, it was entirely possible.

"Purely ceremonial..." Dalton agreed, " crossed swords at a wedding."

Dalton turned to Bleet. "Well, thanks again. Let's head inside."

"Think of it under zero." Bleet said, while rubbing his eye with the back of his hand. His hand was actually smaller than his single eye. It barely spanned the space between the twin pupils that allowed depth perception with a single visual organ.

"Something wrong?" Dalton asked.

Bleet took his hand away and the men from Earth could see the problem. It looked like someone had been emptying the dot container of a hole punch... emptying it onto a dinner plate... only in this case the dinner plate was Bleet's eye, and the dots were big dark specks of dirt on a white background.

"Close your eye. We'll lead you to the ship. We can take care of you there." Percy said.

"Close eye..?" Bleet said.

Neither Dalton nor Percy remembered seeing a Gaq blink. "Maybe they don't close their eyes." Dalton said.

Inside the ship Dalton lead the way to the infirmary. It required a climb. He had Bleet sit in a chair. He leaned the seat way back so Bleet was nearly horizontal. "Take your hands away." Dalton said.

Bleet kept his hands over his eyes and nodded. The nod meant, 'no'.

Dalton gently pried the creature's arms down and he placed them on the arm rests. The arm rests contained straps and Dalton used the little Velcro straps to fasten Bleet to the chair. Dalton looked at the huge eye.

"Maybe we could use cotton swabs... sort'a mop up the area."

"I'm thinking eye wash. If that stuff blew in, it must be light ... we can float it off," Percy offered.

"Good idea." Dalton said, rummaging in the medical kit. He held up a small cup and a bottle with about eight ounces of distilled water inside. The diameter of the cup was visibly less than the diameter of either of Bleet's pupils. "This is our eye-wash kit," he said. "Somehow I don't think it's gonna do the job."

"We'll use one of the foam buckets and tap water. The tap water is sterile," Percy said.

They used a razor and cut the edge of the bucket until it fit Bleet's face. They filled the bucket with clean water.

"Sit up."

As far as he could with his arms stilled pinned, Bleet sat up and placed his face down against the bucket. Then he lay back down while Percy and Dalton upended the bucket.

"And keep your eye open." Dalton said.

Bleet's legs started twitching.

"It's warm, right? Not hot?"

"Tested it myself," Percy said.

"A few more seconds should do it," Dalton said.

While keeping his left hand on the bucket, Percy looked at his fingernails of his right hand. Then he looked out the window and admired the pink mountains. Then he looked up at the ceiling and then down at the floor. "Think that's enough?" he asked.

"Sure," Dalton said. "That's probably enough. Would've been better if Bleet could blink, to swish the liquid around, but immersion should flush the whatever-it-is out." He patted Bleet on the shoulder. "You can sit up now."

Bleet didn't move.

"Help me get him up," Percy said.

The bucket fell. There was very little water on the floor.

"You covered his nostrils," Dalton said.

"Didn't know he had any," Percy said.

"You drowned him."

"I hardly know the guy. It isn't as if I meant him any harm --"

Bleet's mouth opened. Water started dripping out. He looked like a fountain with a clogged intake filter.

"Help me turn him over," Dalton said.

Together they got him out of the chair and onto the floor. When the alien was face down, Dalton started slapping him on the back. After the third slap a sudden gush of water rolled across the floor and splashed off the nearby wall.

"Me die," Bleet said, with gargling accompanying the words.

"No, no, you'll be okay," Dalton said, with a smile that made Bleet's look natural.

From below came a vigorous pounding. Dalton and Percy looked over the railing and down to the lower level. "We better see what that is." They left Bleet on the floor and both climbed down the ladder.

Percy pushed the button that opened the airlock door, and dusty pink daylight flooded in.

Fifty aliens were standing very close to the opening. "Koga neeba sutin Bleet," one of them said.

"Yes. Bleet." Dalton said pointing up. "Bleet is upstairs pretending he's a lawn sprinkler."

"What'd you tell them that for?" Percy said.

"What do you care?" Dalton answered. "I don't know what they said -- and they don't know what I said."

"Koga neeba Bleet," said the whole group. And now they were making motions that could only mean Bleet was wanted. Some of the aliens were gesturing with sticks. "Bleet come." the gestures seemed to say.

"Bleet soon." Dalton said and he gently pushed the vanguard back a few steps.

Percy closed the door. "I hope he doesn't tell them what happened." Percy said. "The beginning is always the most crucial point of any relationship. We have to do everything we can to gain their trust."

They both turned to the ladder just in time to see Bleet drop down through the opening. The alien fell head-first onto the metal deck. His neck folded sideways and both his spindly legs wrapped around in opposite directions, and then he collapsed like an imploded tower. The sound was like a big collection of moose heads dropped onto a highway.

Dalton got there first.

"Me die repeatedly," Bleet whispered.

Dalton took one of the twisted legs and turned it so it mimicked the other one. The he realized the one he hadn't moved had been in the better position. He bent them both the other way.

"Stop! You're killing him!" Percy said. "Wait. Put him on his back."

"I'll get the first aid kit," Dalton said. He started up the ladder. The first rung seemed squishy and he looked down. Bleet's hand was on the rung and Dalton's big black boot was on it like a night stick on a cornered suspect.

"Sorry!" Dalton said, as he rushed up the ladder.

Two seconds later he yelled, "Catch."

The heavy first aid box fell down thru the opening and hit Bleet on his shins. Bleet's knobby heels were on the floor and his legs were thin as mop handles and straight out. His knees flexed backwards and then straightened with a snap, tossing the first aid equipment into the air. The first aid box bounced off the ladder, landing on its hinges, and it slid over, stopping right next to Percy's hand.

"Got it." Percy said, wincing.

The alien was making a strange sound.

"You think he's moaning?"

"Maybe he's purring."

Dalton looked at the injuries... and then noticed the big bruises on the alien's shins. "Somehow I doubt it," he said.

"Can we give him something for the pain?"

"I'm not going to give him something designed for us," Dalton said. "Our meds are engineered for human -- or at least Earth-type -- biology. But there is a general pain-freezing agent included, in case we wanted to take samples of wildlife. I think he could handle that." He took a syringe and plunged it into a tiny bottle. "I'm giving him about half what his body weight would call for, if he was a wild whatever. We can always give him more if we need to."

The medicine went in. Injected into Bleet's arm. Within thirty seconds the moaning stopped.

"Help me get his shirt off."

Dalton and Percy started undressing the alien.

"Amuck time..?" Bleet asked

"Relax." Dalton advised.

The alien was breathing like an old man after a long race. Also now that they had his shirt off they noticed Bleet's arm was broken... or it looked broken.

It was a good thing Bleet's shirt was off. That way they could follow the progress of the alien's skin deterioration as it occurred. Starting at the site of the injection, and rapidly radiating outward, Bleet's skin turned from a healthy (for a Gaq) green color to a ghastly mix of red and black. The thin blue veins -- once barely visible tracery against his healthy skin, like a filigree pattern on a precious vase -- those thin blue veins turned instantly dark like storm clouds surging down valleys and pushing thru mountain passes. The creature's outward appearance changed as if he was a chameleon moved from atop a piece of clean paper and placed onto a diseased liver.

"Let's just outline his position in chalk and be done with it." Percy said.

"No," Dalton stammered. "The color change -- that's probably a good sign... Maybe it tells us the medicine is working. Go get the cot from the nav room and bring it here."

It required tools to move the cot. Wrenches to unbolt the cot from the floor. While Percy worked he muttered to himself, "I guess if he did three jumping jacks and his head fell off... that could be a good sign too... we could call that weight loss due to exercise." The last bolt sheared unexpectedly and Percy's hand bounced off the angle iron. He cursed and dragged the cot through the narrow doorway.

"I'm going to set the bone in his arm," Dalton said, after they had Bleet settled on the cot.

"We don't even know if he has bones."

"Yes we do... I can feel it."

"You aren't a doctor."

"Show me a doctor and I'll let him take over."

"What do you want me to do?" Percy said.

"Just hold him while I pull."

"Maybe we could get him to sign a release first."

"Hold him," Dalton ordered.

While Percy held Bleet down, Dalton gripped the alien's arm just above his three fingered hand. "On three," Dalton said. "One... two... three..." His intention was to give a steady, forceful, controlled, substantive- and-yet-subdued tug. And his feet were braced, as he expected a certain degree of resistance. Bleet's arm looked muscular -- sort of. But like a fire hose off a roll -- like a tablecloth yanked out from under Thanksgiving dinner by a magician -- like taffy pulled during a heat wave by athletes on steroids -- Bleet's arm came at Dalton like a great limp surprise and Dalton found himself falling backward. Still holding the arm, he sat on the floor with a bump.

"Holy shit... it's Stretch Armstrong!" Percy gasped.

Dalton stood and looked at his patient.

His first thought was that Bleet would never be thirsty again -- because there wasn't a well on the planet he couldn't reach into with a tin cup and get water. But a rope always has two ends. Pulling his arm had an unforeseen consequence; Bleet's left leg was almost gone. Just his left foot was peeking out from under Bleet's underoos.

"I hope the curbs here are high." Percy said. "Damn you, Dalton! You always think you know what's best. I still think you screwed up that mining operation."

"We made money." Dalton said.

"Sixty-five credits." Percy said.

"Each." Dalton said.

Pounding came from the door.

"Ignore it." Dalton said.

Percy left, but he wasn't heading for the door.

"Where are you going..?" Dalton asked.

The pounding grew.

Then there was a pause.

More pounding.

It lessened after a moment but it didn't go away.

Dalton changed his position and he stood down at the foot of the cot. He put his hand on Bleet's foot. Slowly, carefully, he gave the foot a small and preliminary tug. Bleet was either pulling in his head, shortening his neck due to pain, or his internal connections were even more complicated than Dalton originally imagined.

Their patient's eye was still speckled with debris, the condition that had started everything. His skin was mottled from the reaction to the sedative. And now his right arm was so long he'd never again need a ladder to clean gutters, and his left leg was going to be an impediment in both senses of that word. And to top it all off, five hundred of Bleet's closest friends were waiting outside.

Percy came back. He was carrying a machine gun.

"That won't help."

"Couldn't hurt."

"Put that away."

"I'm not going to shoot unless I have to." Percy said.

The pounding on the door took on a new insistence. They went to stand near the door. Dalton put his hand on the door. "They must be using a ram... a tree or something." He said.

"We could take off." Percy offered.

"I think it's better just to face the music," Dalton said, his hand was hovering over the button that opened the door.

"Just a delegation," Percy said, adjusting the sling and putting the weapon away on his back.

When the door opened there was no stopping the mob. At first Dalton was wishing he was armed. Bleet's friends were boisterous and agitated. Then some of the more sensible aliens took over. They pushed Bleet's arm back into shape. Bleet had a method of dealing with the grit in his eye but wasn't about to do so while being observed. Two of the alien's held a blanket close to his face obscuring his maneuver and when the blanket was removed the grit was gone. Massage seemed to chase the discoloration from Bleet's skin. Dalton hoped the cure was permanent.

After a few minutes Bleet was standing, a little uncertainly, but standing.

"Thank you for inviting me... I had a wonderful time," Bleet said, with two of his friends supporting him so he could face his hosts. Bleet's head was rolling about, but he did have time to focus for a moment on Percy's hand. "Gravy leak," he said, pointing at Percy's gash.

"I must have done this while un-bolting the cot," Percy said.

"Looks pretty bad," Dalton said.

"It's nothing," Percy said.

"But Percy... we must shave you for burns..." Bleet said. "...and forced coughing will stifle the tedium."

"Nogut linserve anyputyy," Bleet said. Ten aliens lifted Percy and started walking him towards the open door.

Dalton watched them leave.

For more than an hour he stood by the door, listening for distant screams or the sharp sounds of gunfire. Things remained quiet.

"That could be a good sign," he told himself…


© 2006 by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith

Bio: Tom Smith has been published more than 100 times with stories in “Nightmares”, “Lullaby Hearse” and “Scared Naked”. His story “Balloon Kangaroo” (first published by Bewildering Stories) was nominated as Best Fantasy of the Year by a group of editors. Tom Smith lives in St. Louis and is a member of the group, WUTA. (Writers Under The Arch).

E-mail: Thomas Lee Joseph Smith

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