Rene was halfway out on the Redwing trail when the sobbing stopped her steps. It was a dry, green day at the mouth of Spring. It was still a little cold for short-clothes, but she couldn’t help herself, and had gotten out her khaki hiking shorts and denim short-sleeve blouse to put on with her hiking boots and cap. The sun was warm on her skin, where she could find it, but this was not one of the sunnier trails. She had spent the hike so far covered in goosebumps from the chill air, but it was nice to feel the beginnings of spring against her skin.
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Outside the ship, I took a moment to look the other vessel over. It was huge. The skipper had to have been at least a little disappointed that it wasn’t clear for salvage, but Interstellar law dictated that we rendered aid to ships in distress when we found them, and he took the duty very seriously, unlike some salvagers. It was one of the reasons I had signed on with him. Also, I loved this kind of stuff: I evaluated the distance – about thirty meters – and chose a likely entry point – an airlock on a jutting fin closest to me – and I leapt. My heart soared with the freedom and danger of the maneuver as I glided across the gap. I had a little bit more spin than I had intended, and I couldn’t see where I was going, but I knew I was on the right course, so I detached my safety line, and drifted unencumbered the rest of the way.
I collided with the ship shoulder first, and out of the corner of my eye, I was sure I had seen some bit of flotsam drift away from the ship as I came to it, but I was too excited to pay attention. I got out my tools, and prepared to drill or torch my way through the airlock..
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The executive went wide-eyed for a moment and looked around as if making sure no one had heard. “Of course not Mr. Rixx, by law you have every right to resign your position.”
Rixx felt himself untense. “I will go now, then.” he said and started to rise.
“Wait just a moment,” the VP waved him back into his seat. “You have the right to resign, but, by those same laws, we are allowed to conduct, uhh…” he had to look down at some paperwork, “an ‘exit interview’, to be led by a member of the Personnel staff.”
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At first he was just a shadow moving against other shadows, and I could barely keep up with him. I followed his movements as best as I could, keeping my distance, and keeping silent. A few times I snapped twigs or startled animals, but it must not have seemed to Archibald any more than the natural sounds of the wilderness, as he gave the sounds no special notice. For the first three quarters of an hour, the old man followed the main path out of town, and I began to fear that his secret was a benign thing, beneath my interest. He was on his way to spend his evening at the brothel in the next town or something equally boring. But, then he turned off the road.
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Last year, the Ocean was animated by the accidental destruction of the Mind Crucible, and intercontinental trade was brought to a standstill, and most oceanfront property in the world was crushed under the angry hand of the waves incarnated. Remember that? The repairs to the artifact were made using a plaster which was applied using a trowel that an old woman had brought into our office the evening prior, telling us that it would soon be “very important”, before she disappeared in a puff of acrid dust.
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Last week, he’d received a small, thick, bone-white card delivered by private courier while he was making a delivery. Paper messages were extremely rare as paper itself was so valuable. Usually if a message had to be delivered on hard media, it was on poly-vellum which was more durable and very cheap. It would also normally be delivered by drone, rather than by a person, so he had immediately taken notice of this card as something special, before even reading it. When someone hands you nearly a week’s pay worth of paper, then casually flits away through the crowd without a word, that’s significant all by itself.
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Errol Rosario Tucker was the highest quality male which Earth had produced on the 9th of September 2234. This was objective fact. Of all males born on September 9th of that particular year, Errol Rosario Tucker was the most exemplary combination of strength, intelligence, and virility. He knew this because it had been decided by committee. In many ways, this was an honor. It was a compliment. It was a justification of all the things he’d ever thought about himself. It was also a major inconvenience since it meant that Errol Rosario Tucker was on his way to the moon to have sex.
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“You’re an old one,” he whispered with a small smile, “probably got some interesting stuff in there.” He lined up his flenser on the glass of the pod, and squeezed the actuator. The device made a soft purring sound, as it carved its tiny hole through the glass. “Maybe you’re holding on to the secret to a long-forgotten acuity, or perhaps you were witness to some historically significant events.” he licked his lips. “Let’s find out.” The flenser ceased its noise, and Grel closed his eyes, concentrating on the link that he needed to form.
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We regret that you are too late.
You call this a “first contact mission” and I understand your excitement, I assure you. We have ancient records detailing the importance of such events. You have not, however, contacted a previously-unknown-to-you race of sentient beings. We hope you are not too disappointed.
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As he approached the airlock, he heard a voice, “I can help you” it said.
A creature stepped into his path, it was a large chicken with steel feathers and a sword beak. It was menacing in appearance, but not threatening. “Your legs, your lungs, your heart,” the chicken said, “I can fix them for you.”
“What do you want in return?” the prince asked, knowing that nothing was ever given freely by strangers.
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