After breakfast, the home of Madame General Matriarch Herunda.
The spring rains were hammering the roof and making a general racket. Desdae couldn’t hear himself think. He cleaned the morning breakfast platters, alone with his work.
“Tola, I told you to finish your meal,” he said, pulling the quivering husk off her platter. A crunch. A suck. Then he dropped the eight-legged, twitching husk into the trash.
“Not bad this season,” he said, reaching for the next platter.
“Vespay’s my warrior.” Desdae scrubbed his eldest daughter’s spotless platter. “Growing girls need their energy.”
He didn’t even bother to check Herunda’s oversized platter. The Matriarch of the Household’s platter was always scoured clean. He gave it a scrape, a dunk in the rinse, and placed it behind the other platters.
“Everything in its place,” he said, wiping his four hands. “Just as my father taught me.”
He took a breath and surveyed his realm. The floor was spotless. The platters were drying. Tonight’s dinner was already enshrouded in the closet web, waiting for Herunda to get back from her duties with the Army.
“Everything in its place.”
Then the door slammed open.
“Dad, Dad, Dad,” they screamed in unison. With each jumping step, water and field slugs plopped onto the floor.
He closed his eyes. I don’t want to look, he thought. He could hear the plopping slugs begin to squeal as they adjusted to the dry, cold floor.
“How many times have I told you not to track the outside world into the house?” he asked. “Further, why is the door open?”
“There’s no time for that, Dad,” Vespay said, turning around to kick the door shut. “A spaceship. A big spaceship, just landed and there are aliens coming out of it.”
“Yeah, Dad,” Tola chimed in. “Big, tall aliens in weird looking outfits. They are coming this way. You’ve got to call Mom and get the Army out here.”
Desdae shook his head. “I’ll do no such thing. What would the Matriarch, the Madame General, think if I were to tell her such a fantastic tale? I am a little more even-keeled than that. Now, about this mess. I want you both to get the scrubbers and clean this up.”
“Oh, Dad, that’s...” Vespay started, but her father waved her off.
“Maybe it is the job of the male, but you made the mess, you can learn to clean it up,” he replied, crossing his four arms.
“But Dad, what about the aliens? They were following us,” Tolan said, pointing her two left arms at the door. “They’ll be here any minute.”
“And a fine mate I’d be if they got here and found this place looking like an animal stall. Now get those scrubbers. Move,” Desdae said, hustling the two children toward the storage locker. “We don’t want our alien guest to think we are backward savages or dirty little grubs, do we?”
Vespay turned and put her hands on her hips. “Now you listen here...”
Desdae waved her off and turned her back toward the locker. “You can talk like that to your mate when you become Matriarch of your own home, but for now you’ll do as I say or I’ll tan your hides good.”
As the daughters left the dining room, Desdae turned back to the wash basin.
Those two will give me a case of the Vapors yet, he thought, as he took a look out the window.
What he saw, made his hair stand on end, much like a porcupine.
“No, no,” he said, closing his eyes. “No, I am not like my father. I do not get the vapors.” He heard about what they did to men who got the Vapors. They haul them out to the convicts web and shower the deranged with cold water until they snap to their senses.
His father never did come to his senses. At least that is what his Mother had told him.
He splashed cold water onto his head before looking out the window again.
The aliens were still there, and closing on the house.
They wore off-white coveralls, somewhat worse for wear in the torrential rain and mud.
Not a very practical color for this time of year, he thought, forgetting that they weren’t real.
The two aliens went up the stone path to the back door. They had two legs and two arms. One had a pale, pinkish face with very small eyes. The other had a darker face, nearly dirt colored with small eyes as well. Both of them wore blue belts with different sorts of ornaments, pouches, and items attached.
Desdae shook his head and looked at his four arms and four legs. His multifaceted eyes turned back to look at the strangers again.
How can they see out of something so small, he wondered? It is definitely the vapors, he thought. Maybe if I can just get myself calmed down, I can ride them out.
“Yes. Nothing at all.” He knew that males like himself were prone to the Vapors, a hysteria that came with raising the young.
Then there was a thumping noise at the door, followed by a bellowing, oddly chilling sound.
“HELLO,” shot though the door.
Chills radiated out from his center to the tips of his trotters, his hair began to twitch.
“They’re going to eat us, Daddy.” Tola came running back into the dining area with the scrubber held out as if she had her mother’s ceremonial pike.
“I told you we should have called Mom,” Vespay said, charging into the room with her own practice pike, ready for battle. “We have to defend the homeland.”
Aliens, aliens, aliens, tripped, skipped and ran though Desdae’s mind. What do I do, what do I do, what do I do?
More thumping, followed by, “HELLO IN THERE.”
“They’re going to eat us, I know they are going to eat us,” Tola said to her sister.
“Not without a fight,” Vespay reassured her. “Mom will bring the Grand Matriarch’s Army to finish them. We won’t die in vain.”
“Maybe if we are just quiet and settle down,” he wondered aloud. It has got to be hysteria, vapors or that hormonal thing but they can’t be real. ”It is the Vapors, children.”
“How can it be the vapors if we can see them, Dad?” Tola asked.
“Let’s just calm down and wait for them to go away,” he said, crouching down behind the wash basin. He closed his eyes and took deep breaths.
Everything in its place, everything in its place, Desdae told himself.
Vespay reached for the door. “Let’s take them, Tola. Mom will be proud.
Meanwhile, out in the Rain.
“I can hear clicking noises, probably some kind of language,” the darker one said. “I wish we’d been able to scan the planet before landing.”
“Enough of that, Major. Is the translator working?” the pink one asked.
“Sure, Colonel. I suppose we should listen in. Has anyone from Earth ever been here before?” the darker one asked.
“No, the Wanderer’s A.I. said it was inhabited by a sentient species. Hopefully one with a working tachyon transceiver,” she banged on the door again. “Hello. This is Colonel Moirya Payne of the United Solar Exploration Vessel Wanderer. Can we use your telephone? We want to speak with someone in your government.”
“Take us to your leader,” the Major said, under her breath.
“Not funny, Major,” Payne said, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.
More clicking noises, much like a Geiger counter. The dark one held her left hand up to the ear piece.
“Well, Major, what are they saying? Surely they know we are out here.”
The Major frowned: “Something about eating, being eaten, or eating something. I can’t quite make it out. They are also gibbering about bringing in the Army or something.”
Payne stood there for a moment, a drop of water hanging just off the tip of her nose.
“What about what Army?” Payne asked.
Infome leaned toward the door, tapping at the earpiece. She looked at the Colonel.
“Revenge for their deaths, or something like that, not dying in vain,” Infome said, backing away from the door, unsnapping the flap on her holster.
Payne’s hand shot up to her own earpiece. “Colonel Payne to Wanderer. Status?”
“Wanderer here. Reaction mass nominal. Hull integrity nominal. Transceiver and external sensor assembly off line," the A.I. reported.
The door swung open, revealing three arachnoids. Two were holding weapons. The third was curled up on the floor.
Vespay and Tola charged the humans.
“Back,” Infome drew her sidearm and dispensed a bolt into the sky, followed by a double tap in front of their trotters. The pike wielding warriors scuttled back toward a table, holding their weapons to the front.
“Wanderer, prep for emergency boost,” Payne said, backing away from the door before breaking into a run. “Plot a course for the nearest inhabited planet that we do know something about.”
Herunda, wearing the white and gold cloak of a Madame General in the Queen’s Holy Army, stood over her two daughters. A pair of bodyguards stood behind her, wearing the blue sash of the elite forces.
“What do you two have to say for yourselves?”
“They were here, they were going to eat us,” Tola squealed.
“You seem pretty whole for three people who were about to be eaten by aliens,” Herunda said.
“But it’s true,” Vespay said.
“You two should be ashamed of yourselves,” Herunda said. ”You know how fragile the constitution of a male is. You gave your father a serious case of psychotic vapors and he may not recover. I should put both of you on the convicts web for the water treatment he is going to get.”
“Matriarch, we’re not lying,” Vespay said. “They shot a bolt of light at us when we chased them off. Then their ship left on a pillar of fire, just like our spaceships do.”
One of the bodyguards leaned in.
“Madame General, the scouts did report a large, scorched area five tenseks from here,” the left flank bodyguard said.
“Lightning strike,” the Madame General replied.
“And the two burnt marks on the ground outside?” Vespay asked. The same, the Madame General replied.
“There was also the trail of two creatures, leading from the scorch mark to this house, and back again,” the right flank bodyguard added. “They are like no trail I have ever seen.”
“Nonsense, nonsense,” General Herunda said, waving them silent. “Let Desdae sleep this day off, then we will see if he has recovered. The male is a fragile creature.”
She turned to leave her daughters to their chamber.
“After all, it is our duty as women to protect them.”
Copyright © 2003 by Steven Francis Murphy