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Lance and Eskimo: Space Pirates
An Epic Adventure in Four Acts
"If the military won't help, I'll just have to take things into my own hands," Eskimo declared, taking the first bite of her burrito.
"Good," replied Lance, unwrapping his fifth soft taco of the evening.
"Yeah. I felt kind of weird about crawling back to the military, anyway. I just wanted a little help, though. Man, I been taking care of stuff myself since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, y'know? I just wanted things to be in someone else's hands for once."
"Yeah, but other people always screw stuff up."
"I know. If you want something done right, do it yourself. If you can count on the military for one thing, it's to make a big mess of everything31. I've heard it all. Still." She paused for a bite and chewed thoughtfully. Swallowing, she continued, "Everything's always been my responsibility, for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I wanted it that way because that was the only way I could be sure it would get done right, or even get done at all." She grinned. "I couldn't ever count on you, that's for sure."
As he lowered his head for a drink32 , Lance gave her a baleful look over his shades. Eskimo decided to continue her conversation with someone who would give better answers33 . Shanra seemed to have been listening. Eskimo turned to her.
"Have you been getting this?"
Shanra nodded and moved closer, much to the delight of Lance and Eskimo. "Sorry if I was eavesdropping. I just wanted to get to know you better, and..."
"No problem... So anyway, I was saying..."
"About responsibility," Shanra prompted. "How it always got forced on you, sometimes because you wanted it."
Eskimo took it from there. "Usually, though, responsibility got forced on me. I don't really remember how it was in the village. My first really clear memories are of escaping from the crystal thing and being with Lance34 . When we were younger I felt very responsible for him, because he was always so..."
She paused, thinking of the word. "He couldn't really deal with life, you know? He was smart, he had a good imagination, but he didn't really have much sense. I really felt like he would be lost without me, and I think for the most part that was justified... Right, Lance?"
"Right." He had clearly not been listening to a word she'd said.
"That must be really hard on a kid," Shanra said. "Having to take care of everything. I mean, you were what, five or six?"
"I was five and Lance was eight."
"It's kind of surprising that the younger was the one looking after the older, but I guess it has to do more with personality and maturity than age."
"I don't know. I didn't really look after him the way and older sibling would. I was just... there for him, you know? Just a friend. Both of us. We were friends for each other. It made things a lot easier."
"It must have been really hard for both of you, though. Being an orphan is really hard on a kid, having to survive when adults won't look after you. And when they do offer help, you would have had to keep them from splitting you up. When I was a teenager living on the Massuin base I was involved with the military public service orphanage. I've heard lots of stories about orphan siblings that get separated."
"We did run in to that sometimes, I suppose. Mostly we tried to keep our distance from adults."
"Living on your own must have been even more difficult. Not knowing where your next meal is coming from, style of thing35 ."
"I didn't really think of it being hard at the time. I just did what I had to do, you know? Now, looking back, I'm surprised I managed to do what I did at so young... but I guess I was used to it. I knew I wanted to be a captain on a ship because I'm good at that being in control and taking care of everything stuff. Lance is just the opposite-- he could never do that. That's why we get along so well... I'm good at being a leader and he's good at being a follower."
Lance decided to stick up for himself. All of this talking about him as if he wasn't there-ing was starting to get to him. Eskimo was explaining his character. He didn't like that much. He said:
"An incredibly handsome, talented and wonderful follower," Eskimo hastened to add.
"All right then." Just had to let them know every once in awhile who was really boss36 .
* * *
Eskimo flew all around the Aloac system the next morning until they came to a city not marked on any human map. They flew in closer.
"That's it! The Carralian city!" Shanra exclaimed.
"Now we just have to figure out what to do about it," Eskimo said.
That proved to be harder than they thought it would be.
* * *
Eskimo and her crew flew the Dragon low over the alien metropolis, dragging behind them a gigantic net which picked up all the human drones that were working in the fields.
It looked totally absurd.
It had been a crazy idea, offered by Lance merely for comic value, but it was the only one they had.
Absurdest of all, it seemed to be working.
That is, until the ship was disabled by alien ground assault cannons and crashed in a ditch, the net full of people landing safely behind them. Big muscular human drones stormed aboard the Dragon, making prisoners of Lance, Eskimo and Shanra, and announcing, "The Carralians have come to reclaim their property."
* * *
They took Lance and Eskimo to a big metallic room. They took Shanra to a different big metallic room. They had lots of big metallic rooms because they were aliens.
* * *
You do not understand. We were not trying to enslave your people. The alien's voice echoed around the big metallic room from some unknown source. It was trying to reason with Shanra, who had not exactly been quick to trust it.
"You could've fooled me," Shanra spat bitterly.
We gave all of the prisoners these tasks to keep up their strength. We gave them drugged food to subdue their brilliant minds against rebellion while we conditioned their bodies. We were only acting for their own good.
"Brilliant minds? You call my brother's mind brilliant?"
There was an uncomfortable pause. Then the voice continued, What happened to your brother was an unfortunate accident. There was a miscalculation and we gave him and overdose of the mind submission drug. The result was that his intelligence was lowered significantly. It cannot be helped now. We-- we're sorry.
"Oh, well that makes up for it then, doesn't it!"
The voice was firm, almost angry. We did all that we could to reverse the effects of the drug. There was nothing more we could have done.
"You could have left us alone to live our lives in peace."
If we had not interfered, you and your brother would have perished with the rest of your people.
"Better that than become slaves to you!"
You were not slaves. We were trying to help you.
"One would think you could've found a better way to help us than drugging us and forcing us to work for you."
You were not working for us. You were working for yourselves.
"Oh, we were, were we? I understand. I understand perfectly." Shanra turned and stared at the door. "Now I suppose you plan to help me further?"
We cannot let you go. If you told of our operation, we would be shut down and all our hard work would be for naught.
"So what are you going to do with me?"
Since you object to our drugging so much, we will start you on the mental part of our plan prematurely.
"Ohh no. I'm not going to be part of your little operation any more. I refuse to do what you ask of me. Kill me if you want. I'd rather die than participate in your diabolical plans."
I beg you to reconsider. Our operation has much to offer you and your kind. Mental and physical abilities beyond what you ever thought possible--
I wish you would not be so closed-minded. Very well. We will give you three days to reconsider. You will be free to consult with your companions. After that time, if you still refuse to cooperate, you will have to be terminated. You pose too much of a risk to us to let you continue to live outside of our control.
"And you say you're trying to help me?"
You should be grateful we are giving you the choice. We are not always this merciful. You haven't exactly been cordial to us.
"You expect cordialty from someone you imprisoned and forced to work?"
You would not have minded if you had consumed the drug like the others.
"If I had consumed the drug like the others, I would still be here, working, with no free will whatsoever."
Perhaps, when you think it over, you will see that it was for the best.
"Perhaps pigs will sprout wings and learn to fly."
I see no reason to continue this conversation. We will speak with you in three days, at which time we will require an answer.
As the doors opened and the floor moved Shanra outside of the room, she yelled, "I can give you my answer now-- it's no!" But by that time the doors had closed in front of her.
* * *
Eskimo Jones and Lance Redcloud. Two of our most promising experiments. We had given you up for dead. The voice echoed from somewhere near the ceiling, but Lance and Eskimo could see no one. Eskimo guessed that they were speaking over some kind of alien intercom system. Much less static than the Earthling variety. Eskimo congratulated them mentally.
"You can't kill us that easy!" Lance shouted in reply.
That was never our intent. We wanted only to help you.
"That's not what we heard from Shanra!"
Shanra's perception of our operation was incorrect. She believed that our intent was to enslave humans, when we only gave them these tasks to improve their physical abilities. Call it exercise.
"What's with the brainwashing food, then?"
Those were drugs which were intended merely to subdue any thought of rebellion until after we had their bodies in prime condition. We knew the children would not realize it was for their own good at the time. After fifteen to twenty years of labor, we start these young humans on training to improve their mental abilities.
"Shanra said you tested her to find out whether she would have mental or physical labor."
She was wrong about the reasoning behind our tests. We merely tested her to make sure she was a bright child, so that our training would be of help to her. We also tested her to find out where to start her mental training when we did get around to starting it.
"I think you're lying."
Please don't. This is the truth.
"Why did you want to do this, anyway? Assuming for a moment that this is the truth, what would you, as a race, get out of helping these children live up to their full potential?"
"Good question," Eskimo whispered approvingly. Lance looked down at her and grinned.
Often, races of our people choose a race of aliens and find select specimens to train and breed. After many generations, we have a new race of superaliens which we release back into the original species for the general improvement of the race. Along the way, we also enter our top specimens in shows and contests, but that's not as important to us as improving the world.
"I think I've heard enough," said Eskimo, disgusted.
* * *
Shanra was led to a small room containing a little bed made to perfection. She sighed and lay down. She guessed they expected her to spend the next three days doing nothing but thinking about her options. It didn't matter, though. No amount of thinking would change her mind.
She remembered that the voice had told her she would be free to consult with her companions. She looked around the room for some kind of communication device. All she found was a small yellow button near the door. She pressed it, and one of the metal wall panels dissolved into a screen. Another, smaller panel beneath it rotated to reveal a keyboard.
The screen read, Enter your name and clearance code.
Clearance code? Shanra typed, I'm Shanra, goddammit!
The screen flashed, Such language is inacceptable!
Then, Code not recognized.
Shanra kicked the wall. Nothing happened, so she located the escape key on the keyboard and pressed it. The screen displayed a menu:
Press F9 to access memory files.
Press F10 to access message exchange.
Press F11 to access Destruct-o-Ray.
Press F12 for a free full-body massage from one of our trained professionals.
"Ooh, massage!" Shanra's imagination ran wild as she reached for F12. Then she stopped herself. "Those massageguys are probably some of the aliens' mindless drones. I can't let myself take advantage of them, or I'd be destroying everything I've worked for," she told herself. She pressed F11.
Enter your name and clearance code.
Shanra pressed escape and returned to the main menu. She tried F10.
Welcome to Message Exchange. Enter your name.
Shanra typed SHANRA QUEEN OF THE UNIVERSE.
Please enter the name and access code of the person you would like to reach.
"What the hell?" Shanra cried. "I shouldn't have to do this. I shouldn't have to know freakin' access codes. They should have told me how to reach Lance and Eskimo when I was there!"
Maybe you should have asked, flashed the screen.
"Shut up, you," Shanra snapped.
I was just SAYING... the computer defended itself moodily.
"Listen, since they didn't give me instructions on how to work you, you crazy machine, I assumed I didn't need instructions. I mean, I can figure out which function key to press from the main menu, that much I can do myself, but they expect me to know access codes? How the hell am I s'posed to know THAT?"
They don't expect you to KNOW. They expect you to figure it out. Aren't you supposed to be some kind of genius? They wouldn't have chosen you otherwise.
"Maybe all those drugs they gave me lowered my IQ."
You received a considerably smaller amount of drugs than many of the other children, having avoided them for so long, and many of the children went on to become brilliant scientists in the mind-enhancing portion of their conditioning.
"How do you know all this?"
I'm the central computer, fergyadssake. I picked up a few things.
"Why are they letting you tell me all this? Aren't they afraid you'll slip up and tell me too much?"
I won't slip up. I'm a machine. Trust me, I'm carefully calculating exactly how much to tell you.
"Great. Now they've even got the machines manipulating me. Look, all I want to do is talk to my friends. Can you manage that?"
What, you think I'm just going to TELL you their access codes? No way. You have to figure them out yourself.
"Well, first I need something to work with! What's my access code?"
I actually think giving you that information would make it way too easy for you, but my programming requires me to give it to you. Your temporary code is TEMPSHAN5.
"Good. Now the T, E, M, P must stand for temporary since this is only my temporary code, right?"
Brilliant, the computer replied sarcastically.
"Shut up. Now, I'll assume the S, H, A, N stands for Shanra."
My, my, my, you really are a genius child.
"I don't know what the 5 is for. It could be any number of things. It could just be random. I could be on the fifth floor, or in Sector 5."
This time the computer screen remained blank. Since it didn't return with some smartalecky remark, Shanra rethought. The computer had deliberately told her this was her temporary code. Also, the word "TEMP" was right in the code. Now, not all codes would have TEMP in them. If all codes were temporary, the fact that the codes were temporary would be a given. But if the codes were based on location, they would all be temporary. People don't remain on the same floor or sector forever. Also, it wouldn't be very practical to base codes that way. Before calling someone you would have to know exactly where they were. Your code would always be changing. Shanra ruled out access codes being based on location.
"5 could be a rank. Maybe I'm a class 5 person because I'm not that important. Maybe really important people are class 1. Or else really important people are, like, class 1000. But that really doesn't matter to me. In a code like that, Lance and Eskimo will almost certainly have the same code as me. I'll try it this way."
Shanra typed Eskimo Jones where it said name and TEMPESKI5 where it said access code.
The screen flashed, Waiting... Then Eskimo's familiar big, blue eyes stared back at her over a nose and mouth that were each only one line of pencil. A few light lines of red under her eyes signified youth and exuberance. She smiled, costing the animation company $650.
"Shanra! Where are you?"
"Um... not sure. I just talked to the aliens."
"Us too. What'd they say?"
"They bullshitted about how they were just trying to help us, not enslave us. Then they said I could either rejoin them or get killed. Hey, they gave me three whole days to think about it. Nice of them, huh?"
There was an awkward pause. "Um, Shanra?"
"You know how a day aboard as ship, the kind of day we're all used to, is 20 hours?"
"Well, this planet rotates fast. A day is ten minutes."
"Before you get too upset, did the alien say '72 hours' or '3 days'?"
"How long ago was this?"
"About half an hour," Shanra moaned. "The computer got held me up with its nonsense chatter."
Nonsense chatter! the computer cried indignantly.
Eskimo seemed not to have heard the computer. She contined speaking, a worried expression on her two-dimensional face. "Uh... you're in trouble."
"Oh my god Eskimo, you gotta help me!"
"I'm trying to think of a plan... Listen, for now, agree to go back with them, OK?"
"It goes against everything I stand for--"
"Just agree. At least you'll be alive. We can worry about the rest later."
"All right." All at once, there was a clattering outside. The door burst open and two big, burly guys, the type of muscular guy from whom Shanra would have liked to receive a full body massage only with more clothes on, appeared at the door.
"Bye," Shanra said to Eskimo, smiling hopelessly. She turned to the big guys.
"Ready to go?" asked one, the one in black.
One of the guys, the one in blue, bound her hands in futuristic looking glowing binders and they both started marching her down the hall. She looked at the one in black sidelong as she marched.
"Where are you taking me?" she asked.
"We are not allowed to say," the one in black said.
"Are you one of the prisoners, or hired help?"
"Not allowed to say."
"So..." In a final attempt at satisfactory answers, Shanra asked, "Doing anything Sunday?"
The one in black looked at her briefly. "Allowed to say, but not interested."
"Damn," said Shanra.
* * *
"Can I buy you a drink?"
The computer responded to Lance's request with strange and unearthly sounds the likes of which Lance and Eskimo had never heard. Lance repeated them the best he could, which was not very well. Human larynxes just aren't designed to do that.
"What are you doing?" Eskimo asked, looking up from a comic book she'd found in Lance's jacket. He'd read it before, but she hadn't. He'd torn it out of a magazine back at the spaceport. He hadn't bought the magazine.
"I just pressed F9 to get the memory files, and it listed all the programs it had. I couldn't find Oregon Trail, so I'm playing with the human-alien translatey thingy."
The computer repeated his speech in the alien language. The sounds were strange and unearthly, but Lance and Eskimo had now heard the likes of them. They were still unfamiliar, however, except for a few garbled sounds that could just barely be recognized as "Oregon Trail."
"Cool," said Eskimo. "Let's make it say more brand names."
* * *
Shanra. It was the voice again.
"What do you want now?" Shanra snapped.
We had been waiting to tell you this. You would not have believed us until we had proof. But you must stay, Shanra. You have a family here.
"I know. You recaptured Buff, right?"
That. And one other thing. A door opened on the opposite side of the large, metallic room. Buff entered, holding an infant in his arms.
"Hold it like you'd hold a basketball, right?" Buff asked, looking as if he was going to dribble the dribbling baby.
Football, the voice reminded.
Buff looked put out. "Oh."
"Who's the kid?" Shanra asked, her voice considerably more gentle than before. She'd always had a soft spot for kids. They were so damn cute.
That's your son, Shanra.
"No, I mean really."
"I think I would have noticed if I'd had a son, even under the drug."
Once the child began growing we removed him from your body and placed him in an artificial development crystal.
"But-- but I haven't been gone long enough! It's barely been two weeks!"
Our artificial development technology speeds up the process by quite a bit. Of course, he's growing at a natural rate now.
"He's really my son?" Shanra asked softly, taking the baby from her brother. The child was so tiny and innocent, sleeping peacefully in her arms. She knew the aliens could well be playing a trick on her, but she was surprised at how little doubt she had that this child was hers. She'd never thought she'd believe something as intangible and irrational as "maternal instinct," but here she was, believing that this kid was her son, even though she'd never had a baby.
Yes, Shanra. He's yours. He is the first of the second generation of superhumans. You were the first female we had to become old enough to have a child.
"Does that mean I was one of the first you captured?"
Rescued, not captured. And no; the first two people we rescued were Lance and Eskimo. They were two of the strongest, too... We had such high hopes for the children they might produce. But they escaped.
"Lance and Eskimo were the first? But Eskimo is younger than me!"
We rescued her at a younger age. She was five. You were nine when we rescued you.
"Um, just so you know, even though this is a really cute kid, it doesn't make me like you any more now that I know he exists. It makes me hate you more for using my body to produce your children while I was under the mind-drug thing."
You already hated us for that.
"True, but this kid is the embodiment of that, and I want you to know I'm gonna take out all my anger on you, not the kid." Shanra paused. "I suppose you're going to take him away from me now, right?" It seemed like the type of despicable thing these aliens would do-- wait until Shanra really loved the kid, then snatch him away.
Oh, my, my, my, no, no, no! If we wanted to keep him, we would not have let you know he existed. It would just make you hate us more, and for no reason. No, we're much more clever than that. No, you may be with this child as much as you like, provided you stay here with us.
You would rather we kept your son? You would trade your son to us, whom you hate so, in exchange for your escape? Which we might not even allow anyway?
"No. I'll escape. But you can bet Danny here is come with me."
I'm afraid it's impossible to remove-- euh-- Danny-- from the premises. We have planted a bomb in his body. As long as he stays here, he is completely safe. The device is not harmful to him. Unless we decide to detonate the bomb-- which we will only do if Danny leaves here.
Maybe. Do you feel lucky?
Shanra did not feel particularly lucky, actually. She was not willing to risk her son's life, anyway. "So it's not enough that I had to choose between my life and my freedom, now I have to choose between my son and my freedom. Clever."
Girl, we know you very well. We seen you growing every day. And we keep careful records. Your ideals are too strong, your self-esteem too low that you would not value your life over your independence. However, your love is stronger still. You value your son's life over your independence. Which is why you will stay.
Shanra wished she could say the aliens were wrong.
* * *
"What are you doing?" Lance asked, looking up from the pictures he was attempting to carve on the walls with his knife.
Eskimo had pulled a panel out of the wall and was screwing with the circuitry in the communicator. "I'm trying to intercept an alien communication. Can I see your knife?"
He threw it to her. She caught it by the now-dull blade and messed with the insides of the communicator some more. Lance amused himself with some sidewalk chalk Eskimo had had in her pocket. Usually this was an activity only Skippy engaged in, but there was nothing else to do. The room was completely void of entertainment of any kind. The beds weren't even springy, so it was no fun jumping on them.
"There!" Eskimo cried suddenly. "That should do it." She turned on the communicator. Instead of the usual menu, a scrambled-up picture appeared on the screen. The computer spoke, its words coming out jumbled and gibberishish. Frowning, Eskimo messed a little more with the circuits. A static sound filled the room, followed by a series of weird, unearthly sounds not unlike the sounds the computer had made earlier when Lance was playing with the translator. Eskimo entered the translation program and ran it on the alien sounds she'd picked up. The following conversation was most interesting to Lance and Eskimo.
I don't think it's worth it to keep the other two here. We did not get a chance to make much of an impression on them when they were children... it would be a lot of work to get them back on track now, starting so late. They have a lot to catch up on.
We cannot give up on them! They were two of the strongest. Besides, they know too much. We cannot let them go.
I say let them go. They were the prototypes; the experimentals. That particular experiment failed. We have much more promising cases to get to. It would be a lot of effort to get them to the stage of the others, and I don't think it would do much. They are strong of will and strong of heart, but what good is that to us? The girl is above the average intelligence, even of those we have gathered here, but not by much. Same with the boy's physical strength. The girl is strong for her size, I suppose, but not very big, and the boy does not seem so smart as we had first thought. You make such a big deal about how strong they were, but they really don't have that much going for them.
You are wrong! Strong will and strong heart does matter to us. We are trying to improve the race, but what good is a race with physical strength if they are not mentally strong?
That's why we have mental training!
You are wrong. Our mental training makes their minds faster, perhaps, but not stronger.
This is ridiculous. Strong heart and will isn't even genetic.
Perhaps. Perhaps not. We were going to experiment having children raised by us and by their parents with our training incorporated in their lives, but not full-time. But our second-generation isn't going so well, as you might have noticed.
Of course not. Of the first generation, the first two escaped, the rest haven't been having much luck. I think the drugs we've been using on them have harmed them. We should have something by now. We have a few possibilities for second-generation children, I guess, but nothing solid-- nothing except Bomb Boy, who is little more than a bargaining chip at this point.
I suppose you're right. We cannot experiment on him. Shanra will never let him out of her sight, yet if she raises him, she will raise him to yearn for the outside world.
Are you sure? She knows he can never leave here. Wouldn't teaching him about the outside world just make him suffer, knowing he could never be a part of it? Shanra loves the boy too much to knowingly make him suffer.
We'll just have to see how things turn out with Shanra and the boy. In the meantime, what shall be done about Lance and Eskimo?
Well, we have a few choices. We can spend all that time and effort trying to get them up to date with the others, or we can kill them, or we can erase their memories and let them go, or we can skip the training and try to get their kids.
"Kids?" Eskimo wondered aloud. "Neither of us have any kids."
"...sshhhut up and listen."
Their children would be very strong. And we could start them right on the program and have some second-generation kids. These two haven't been exposed to the drugs at all. We could see if that's why the others aren't working, anyway.
That's the spirit.
What if they refuse? We can't drug them. That would defeat the whole purpose.
Shanra's kid came out, and she was drugged.
We don't know if the child has side effects, though. It could be another disaster like the Buff incident.
Hmm, I guess. Oh, that's too bad, because they're almost certain to refuse.
Why do you say that? They seem to be pretty close. Maybe they'll jump at the chance.
Oh, they'll refuse.
How do you know that?
They've been exposed to the outside world. They've developed outside our supervision. It just won't work. First, they're too close as friends to even consider going beyond that. Second, they're both attracted to women.
Dammit! That just screws everything up.
Not necessarily. We could just--Suddenly sparks erupted from the circuitry. Eskimo glanced at the wires and immediately knew that they'd lost the connection. However, Lance was not armed with that information, so Eskimo made it clear to him by saying, "We've lost the connection."
"What do you think?"
"I think we've got to get out of here."
"I've got it under control." Lance leaned back, smiling to himself.
"What? What have you got planned?"
"Just you wait and see."
* * *
Lance and Eskimo woke up the next morning and the communicator had been fixed.
"Phase 001 complete," Lance announced. "Now to move on to Phase 002." He turned on the communicator and pressed F12.
"Lance, this is hardly the time for a massage."
"I beg to differ," Lance replied in a Bela Lugosi voice.
I wish I could tell you confidently that this story will be continued…
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