by Sam Bellotto Jr.
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
On the ground, the cop who had been previously incapacitated instead of killed began to mutter, stir, reach for his cap that had fallen off his head. “Look him,” the creature changed the subject. “I say not dead. Vega not make dead on purpose. Look.”
The non sequitur was staggering.
“But what about this?” Thuringer protested, indicating the slaughter encircling the scene. “Here’s a whole bunch of dead. Why if not on purpose?”
The creature didn’t seem to think it was all that important. “Unavoidable. Landing bad. Maybe you big boss of man? Back to cleaning now...” The creature seemed quite obsessed with oral maintenance and lecturing on about the imperativeness of an odor-free lifestyle. Its cleaning organ continued wiggling into areas that Thuringer really didn’t want to witness, even if this creature was some kind of intelligent turkey from another galaxy.
As attention was riveted in reluctant fascination to drops of honey-colored liquid drooling out of the creature’s mouth and running lazily down its cleaning organ, nobody noticed the second boxlike spacecraft sigh apart and introduce its own occupant onto the scene: another chicken, maybe twelve centimeters or so smaller, but nearly a clone of the first one.
Immediately the second creature began its own gurgling cleaning ritual. The two creatures talked to each other. Thuringer presumed that’s what they were doing. The language sounded like nothing he had ever heard before. A rapid staccato pattern of clicks and chirps interrupted occasionally by a throaty whistle.
“Wha—?” Isidorofsky exclaimed. He shot a bewildered glance at Thuringer.
“I guess they’re talking to each other.”
Thuringer shrugged. “The weather? Picking up chicks? World domination? Beats me.”
“Wish they’d put the kibosh on that licking. It’s makin’ me sick.”
At that moment, the smaller of the two creatures did stop cleaning itself, retracting its glistening cleaning organ back into its mouth. “Kto vi bolshoi nachalnik chelovyeka!?” the second creature screeched in a demanding tone.
“English words!” the larger creature repeated, physically twisting its torso in the direction of the other to make eye contact with it.
“They lack orbital movement,” Thuringer mentioned to Isidorofsky. “That could be useful.”
The smaller — but not by much — creature emitted a lengthy, low whistle. The larger — not by much, either — creature turned its attention and bulk back in the direction of Fire Chief Isidorofsky and the small number of people clustered around him.
“Where we?” it began. “Apologize bad first contact, more. We take planet nevertheless, thanks you.”
“Excuse me?” Isidorofsky bristled. The immediate entourage bustled with consternation. From the crowd much farther back one could hear rumblings like a distant waterfall, snatches of concerned conversation.
The creature appeared to address Isidorofsky directly, although it was hard to tell with the unusual placement of the eyes. “Guess you is boss of man,” it determined. “Right. This what Vega and boss of man agree. Vega desire man world. Good planet. Fecund. Good for Vega nest homes. Vega will take it. Man can stay rest of life, not problem. But man stop breeding. Very simple. Good plan, don’t you agree?” The creature’s mastery of English improved the longer it spoke.
“What?” said Isidorofksy.
“You’re kidding!” said a cop.
“You gotta be nuts!” added Thuringer.
The creature ruffled, stomped the ground hard. “You not boss of man! No talk! Vega talk with boss of man!” It continued to address only the Fire Chief. Apparently it had gotten a bit irked when the other two broke protocol and joined in uninvited. Hard to say. The odd position of the eyes; no real facial features; no face, actually.
“Vega require 240 man-world orbits to complete settlement of man world, so that work out good for man and Vega. Vega lifespan equal three man lifespan. All man now alive can enjoy full, rewarding life.
“Vega help man. Vega show you advanced science things, disease cures, great entertainments, much fun. Vega take care of manual labor tasks for man so man can spend all life free of worry, ailments, obligations. In peace. Peace important.
“But you not breed. That man part of deal. No making more man. Vega calculate then, that within 100 times man world orbits star, man all gone from world. Vega can occupy. Peacefully. War not necessary. Vega hate war. Good plan, right?”
The slightly smaller of the two creatures all this time had been standing quietly, not moving, not so much as a wriggle.
The somewhat larger Vegan was nonplussed — apt as any other way to describe the creature’s reaction, considering the lack of a familiar-looking head. “Vega take good care of man,” it explained further. “That natural order of universe. Man learn this if man long doing space travel. War happen rarely between worlds, if at all. War not common. World contacts not common, also. Distances near impossible to travel.
“Evolution very hard, also. Most worlds happy to swap life of ease and luxury for giving up world. Not matter anyway in long-term galactic view. Breeding not easy, messy, smelly, take too much of life energy with little return, also.
“Breeding, after all, mainly instinctive. Generic imperative. Not eagerly sought. Most life with intelligence Vega make first contact with want pleasures for nothing. A universal constant. Man maybe not know this? Vega offer constant to other worlds. Other eagerly accept. Vega now do this for man. Man also be very grateful.
“Also, man world way outside important region of universe. Alone in galaxy boondocks. No other life forms have interest. None care except Vega. Good plan, right?”
The creature shuffled around a bit. Its remarks were probably rhetorical; hard to say. “Why man stink up own world so much? Vega never run into life form like this before. Man so odd. No matter. Vega fix.”
“Ya’ keep sayin’ that,” said Isidorofsky, loudly.
“Maybe we don’t want Vega fix!” Thuringer also stressed the final two words.
“Not boss of man make joke? Not want Vega fix?”
A preposterous assertion to Vegans, apparently. The larger creature seemed almost to chuckle at the thought. The two Vegans chittered at each other in loud soft loud soft tonal oscillations. Likely Vegan laughter.
“Joke over.” The big Vegan got serious, at least one had to assume that its tone of voice and demeanor turned more serious. It made sense. “How can man breathe this stuff? Anyway, Vega fix good. Talk words too much. Boss of man think offer over while Vega do more cleaning now. Good world, but dirty. Fix that.”
As fate and outsourcing would have it, the Vegans didn’t get the chance to fix that. Or do any more cleaning. In the next instant, to everybody’s amazement, the Vegans were slain. In the moment it took to realize what had happened they were cut down.
Before they could unreel their cleaning organs less than a meter, they were dispatched. Not by the policemen on the scene. Not by the dirty air. The Vegans were slain by the humblest thing that free enterprise, in its wisdom, had put upon this Earth: a SuperCopter Drone Mark II.
You see, the military had been privatized for a number of years. It had never been very effective, manipulated by the hands of government, or profitable. A drain on the taxpayers, they said, devouring dollars the way old gas guzzlers chugged down gasoline. During the last session of Congress, therefore, the military had been contracted out to Armed Aggressors ‘R’ Us, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Parsley, Sage, and Thyme Warner, Hap Gorman Wells, former junior senator from Delaware, CEO.
The company had been remotely monitoring the entire situation all along from their regional branch office in Ronkonkoma — they did that a lot — and, determining that the situation was desperately out of hand, they launched a SuperCopter Drone, invoice to follow.
The SuperCopter Drone Mark II employed the absolute latest in stealth technology. Its optical refracting skin made it nearly invisible and its Cottonmouth patented jet engines could barely be heard above a whisper. It was fast: from zero to Mach Two in 60 seconds. Its Pinpoint Pulsar Cannons had pinpoint accuracy.
The Vegans, alas, were outmatched.
The smaller Vegan’s head came off cleanly midway down the neck with a light pthop. A dime-sized hole was punched right through the larger Vegan’s torso, making a squishy pffft sound as it did so.
Both creatures failed to react even autonomically. For a number of seconds, they stood frozen like mannequin copies of themselves. Then they both toppled over. Stiff. From their wounds, a gooey colorless liquid bubbled out, pooling up on the pavement, and then jelled. That was that.
“That’s that,” echoed one of the cops.
“I guess,” said Isidorofsky.
The crowd mutterings grew to a mumble, then roared in a crescendo of approval. Some applauded. A few whistled loudly. A woman’s voice was clearly heard above the din to say “Yeah! That’ll teach ’em!”
“Anybody got a knife?”
Questions had become irrelevant. Answers futile. One of the cops fished around in his utility belt, came up with a red pocket knife, and tossed it to Thuringer who caught it smartly and stepped away from the gathering.
Nobody paid a bit of attention to Thuringer, what he was doing, or what he was going to be doing. It didn’t seem important.
There was no reason anymore to restrain the throng of onlookers. Many came forward for a closer peek at the cubical landing craft, now more resembling cracked eggshells, empty, useless. Smartphones flashed as people had their pictures taken standing next to the cubes and their dead occupants.
A TV crew was interviewing Chief Isidorofsky who straightened his cap, made sure his badge was prominently displayed, and tried to appear as authoritative as possible. The proverbial elephant in the living room — in this case the blue whale in the kiddie pool — hadn’t belly-flopped on anybody yet. As well.
History could have taken a completely different fork in the road had Thuringer been distracted from his considerable purpose. In the fistful of seconds after the creatures had been killed, a realization washed over Thuringer’s chef brain like milk over breakfast cereal. He neatly carved off a large section of what for no better description could be called the creature’s drumstick and, slab of meat in hand, ran off.
By this time, two representatives from Armed Aggressors showed up and joined Chief Isidorofsky in front of the TV camera: a man and a woman. The man was former Special Forces or CIA, wearing a brown sport jacket and matching slacks that were a little too tight. The woman, in her late 30s, wore a large comm device on her head and never stopped talking into it.
Into this maelstrom of random activity and cross-chatter, somebody eventually brought up the obvious. It might have been one of the cops, but more likely the anthropology professor from the local college. “Excuse me... excuse me... don’t you people understand that these two creatures probably did not travel here all by themselves?”
Lightning struck. The bottom fell out of the market. Christmas had been canceled. Simply put, “Oops!”
After a skipped heartbeat or two, the gentleman from Armed Aggressors tried to reassure the crowd. He didn’t do a very good job of it. Voices got raised. People began throwing blame around like a food fight. Isidorofsky absorbed the brunt of it, probably because he had been designated the “big boss of man” by the Vegans and, true or not, he had done little to dispel the notion.
The reps from Armed Aggressors got their share because, after all, it was their weapon that destroyed the two creatures. The cops took some flack. Cops always do. And the anthropology professor from the local college was heckled for even bringing up the unthinkable in the first place. All in all, what one would expect.
Time treaded water.
About a year before, it must be noted, Thuringer had appeared on the Cooks of Steel TV show, which was wildly popular, almost as much as I Need a Ballroom or the long-running if controversial One Night Stand. He came in second behind the Gum Island Cook.
Thuringer always maintained that it was because the theme ingredient was salt. Thuringer had protested, on air, “Salt? How can a seasoning be a theme ingredient?” which did not start him off on the right foot with the judges.
The Gum Island Cook just smiled. Gum Island was a Third World nation where salt, lawn clippings, water, and earthworms were among the major food groups. Thuringer, in any case, had experience preparing multiple course dinners in record time.
While arguments and accusations continued to be fired back and forth into people’s faces like custard pies, Thuringer made his grand re-entrance onto the street, wheeling a heavy-laden cart covered with fresh linen to protect the hidden treasures. Thuringer, wearing a white apron, was beaming.
“You again?” bellowed Isidorofsky.
“Who’s that?” asked the man from Armed Aggressors.
“What’s that?” corrected Isidorofsky.
Thuringer, with a magician-like flourish, whipped off the linen covering to reveal several dozen steaming lidded dishes, each one reflecting the color of the late day sun, bronze mixing with silvery metal. With great pride, he took the lids off those dishes, one by one. There was seen a tantalizing array of meats and sauces: slabs of barely pink, seared steaks swimming in a glistening brown gravy; a peppery crusted loaf sitting on a bed of greens doused in a red sauce; cheesy triangles of meat in a pool of cream; croquettes; chops; filets; mushrooms; onions. The savory aromas danced in the air.
“Dig in” was all that Thuringer said, his voice like a dinner bell.
The commotion quelled, a deep sigh.
“I am a bit peckish,” someone said, breaking the ice.
“Mmm. Smells good.”
“Must be a new restaurant opening up.”
“For free, who’s to complain?”
As people lined up, reluctantly at first, then eagerly, Thuringer carefully cut and placed samples of his culinary art on plates and handed them off. He was in his element and he appreciated the attention as much if not more than the people in the queue appreciated the complimentary lunch. They thanked him. He thanked them back.
“Now I recognize you,” Isidorofsky declared, his own full plate in hand, “you’re that cook on the TV show!”
Thuringer had taken special care serving the Fire Chief. “Enjoy,” he replied.
And for a good long time, one could hear nothing but the sounds of cutlery against plates, smacking lips, grunts of appreciation, the occasional “this is good” or “I’ve never tasted anything so wonderful” or “Is this a plum sauce?” or an ordinary “yummy!”
Isidorofsky remained near Thuringer. Imagine him, palling around with a famous TV celebrity. But he chewed slowly while his mind began to make certain connections. He liked the food. He told Thuringer so, several times.
Nonetheless, his brain worked while his taste buds played. Then he got it. Almost nonchalantly, Isidorofsky pointed his fork in the direction of the two dead Vegans still clogging up the intersection. He asked Thuringer, “Is this...?”
Thuringer nodded heartily, grinning broadly, barely able to contain his pride of workmanship.
Isidorofsky, rather more like an emcee calling out the name of the contestant who won the brand new car instead of a detective naming the culprit, shouted, “Ha! This is Vega meat! We’re eatin’ Vegan!”
The diners paused momentarily, a herd of deer grazing in a lush meadow on a sunny afternoon in response to a whiff of wolf in the air, then went right back to chowing down. It wasn’t a wolf after all, but a jackrabbit. “Well somebody had better get the rest of those turkeys on ice before they spoil.”
It was a turning point. The best laid plans of invaders and extraterrestrials often go awry. Or so the saying paraphrases.
The sky cracked. It wasn’t the sound of lightning, nor thunder. It was as if the broad blue sky was made out of glass and somebody hit it with a giant mallet. Some people stopped eating and looked up. The blue shifted to a kind of yellowy green, reflecting the bottom face of an enormous cube, similar to the two that had landed earlier, except this one was the size of several city blocks. Blurry at first, the features of the Vegan mother ship came into sharp focus as it got closer and closer and prepared to land.
The Vegan mother ship, undoubtedly packed to overflowing with armed, angry, delicious, mouth-watering Vegans.
Copyright © 2013 by Sam Bellotto Jr.