“Activating tractor beam… now.”
A soft, deep humming sound could be heard, even from the bridge. The lights dimmed a bit, as the tractor beam sucked the bulk of the ship’s power.
“Subject locked, coming away nicely. This guy’s fat, weights a ton.”
“Keep it going, we should have enough power.”
“I hope you’re right.”
The lights flickered for a brief moment, and an alarm went off.
“What the hell! What was that? Did we lose the subject?” Rind panicked, but only just a bit. He was not supposed to panic. Not visibly at least.
“Nope, we still have it, but it seems we’ve hit something.”
“Let me see. Kill that alarm please.”
Rind obeyed, although it was usually the other way round — Gek obeying to Rind. At any rate, the alarm ceased. A red light kept blinking on the main command module console.
“It looks like we went through an aerial power line. We have cut it.”
“No! Damn it, not again! You know what that means?”
“Yeah,” said Gek, visibly worried.
“We’ll have to suit up, go outside, and fix it.”
“Then we’ll have to come back and decontaminate. It’ll take forever.”
“Oh, you know?”
“This is not my fault! The beam driver did not detect the damn wire.”
“Ok, listen up,” Rind said, “we’re going to clean up this mess. Fix things. Avoid contact with humans. Cover our traces.”
“Yes, I know the drill.”
Ding! Another alarm went off. Ding! Ding!
They both looked at the command console. It was relaying video from an external camera.
“Oh no. A human is shooting at us.”
“Freeze that sucker,” Rind said, now almost pissed off.
“We don’t have enough power. We’re still running the tractor beam.”
“Damn. How far is our original subject?”
“How high above the ground?”
“We can’t do that.”
“How high?” Rind was almost shouting now.
“Are you serious? He could get hurt.”
“Do I look like I’m joking? We must catch the other one and wipe him.”
“He will at least wake up.”
“I know. As soon as he’s on the ground, we’ll freeze them both.”
“Right. Killing tractor beam… now.” The fat man fell on the ground. Predictably, he woke up with a fair amount of pain and a couple of broken bones.
“Good. Freeze them.”
“Doing that now.”
Zzaap! Zzaap! The two humans froze in place, with their eyes open and looking toward the spaceship, with a mixed expression of awe and fear. Probably less awe and more fear.
“Now, let’s land and clean this mess up.”
The ship slowly descended while landing gear deployed automatically. The ship touched the wet grass below. Cows mooed while running away, either scared or just annoyed. After all, they were happily sleeping before all these “sentient beings” started making awful noises.
Gek and Rind went to the EVA preparation room. They helped each other wearing suits, and then they checked power, life support systems, and finally their radios. Everything seemed fine, at least for what they could tell. One never knew when things unexpectedly stopped working.
They proceeded into the airlock and closed the inner hatch. A green light appeared on the roof, signaling that the ship was sealed.
“You go first,” Gek said, hopeful.
“No, this time it’s your turn. I don’t want to get shot at again.”
“Shot at? They were throwing rocks at you.” Gek tapped on his portable command module, strapped to his middle wrist. The outer hatch opened with a thud and a short hiss. He reluctantly stepped outside and slowly descended the narrow ladder that was below. When he reached the last rung, he noticed that the ground was almost a meter below him.
“Ship’s too high. We must request a landing gear recalibration as soon as we get back.”
“Roger that. Just jump.”
Gek jumped, underestimating the weight of the suit and equipment he was carrying.
“Oh, come on, it’s not that high.”
Rind jumped as well. “Ouch!”
Gek let go a short laugh.
“Shut up. Let’s get to work.” He gestured toward the fat man. “Wipe the fat one. I’ll do this other one with the gun.”
The air was still. Stars shone bright in the sky, as the moon had not yet risen. The house was in an isolated area just outside town, and no one else was around. It was a perfect night for an abduction.
“Keep your eyes open, there could be other humans around.”
They parted, each walking towards one of the two men.
Gek reached the fat one. He was laying on the ground with his eyes wide open in fear. “This one peed in his pants.”
“Just wipe him.”
“I hate this job. I’d rather work in the mines on Mars.”
“You know we’ve shut mines down when humans have started landing rovers and crap on Mars.”
“You know what I mean.”
Rind said nothing.
Gek pulled the Memory Wiper from his toolbelt and pointed it at the head of the human. He pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. “This thing doesn’t work.” He pulled the trigger a few more times. “Crap.”
“Mine works. Just a second.” Rind wiped the human-with-gun’s memory and walked towards Gek. When he got there, he wiped fat-human’s memory. There was a one-in-three-hundred chance that memory wiping didn’t work, but that was not their problem. They were just following the procedure.
“What now?” Gek asked.
“We take this one and bring him onboard manually. We can’t run the tractor beam while on the ground.”
“What about the other?”
“I don’t know. I guess we can take him as well. Two for the price of one. Besides, we can’t leave him here.”
“I hate this job.”
“You said that already. Go get two stretchers.”
Gek walked back to the ship. Rind kept his eyes open on the scene. “Oh, and take some AnyMat for repairing the power line,” Rind said over the radio.
“Right, I almost forgot about that. I’ll take a couple bags, should be enough.”
After a few minutes, Gek was back. He was pushing two hovering stretchers. “There’s a problem. We have no AnyMat pellets on the ship.”
“This is ending badly.”
“Supply’s so messed up that I’m surprised we even have enough fuel to get back.”
“Hmm. Do we have enough fuel to get back?”
“Actually… I haven’t checked.”
“Awesome,” Rind said. He paused for a moment. “We’ll take care of that later. Now we have to get backup for this. Call the mothership and request another squad. Let them fix the power line, we’ll just take the two humans.”
“They won’t send another squad just for that, it’s too expensive, and even if they did, it would take hours. It would be morning by the then.”
“Shit!” Rind was now genuinely worried, but he knew the suit hid most of his expressions.
“I have an idea,” Gek said reluctantly.
“You have an idea.”
“Yes. Do you think you’re the only one capable of thinking?”
“We go inside the human house and see if we can find something that’s made of copper. We can use the Molecular Blender to build the couple meters of wire we need. We should find plenty of plastic for insulation.”
“As much as I hate to admit it, that might work.”
“You’re welcome,” Gek said sarcastically.
“Right, let’s get these two in cryo on the ship first.”
They loaded the two bodies on the hovering stretchers and pushed them back to the ship. Gek tapped on his portable command module and lowered an elevator from the belly of the ship. It stopped a meter and a half above ground. They loaded the stretchers on the platform, not without some difficulty. Fat-man fell from the stretcher. His left arm bent at a funny angle. “Without a scratch” was bound to interpretation after all, especially if logistics got in the way. The ship would repair the two humans while they were in cryo.
After a couple more tries, the two bodies were “safely” on the elevator platform. A few taps on Gek’s command module, and the ship retracted the platform.
“I’ll get the ship take care of the humans,” said Gek while tapping on command module.
“It will get them to soft cryo. Just a sec.”
“Take your time.”
“Done, they’re decontaminating now. We can go.”
They walked back to fat-human’s house. Everything was dark and silent. They could only hear the cows mooing in the adjacent fields. They were calmly chewing now, and some were gradually coming closer to the ship, apparently no longer scared.
“Nice cows, uh?”
“We have plenty already. Let’s go inside.”
Gek tried the door handle. “It’s locked. Let’s see if there’s another door on the back.”
They walked along the wall of the house, to their right. They reached the far corner of the building, and Gek peered on the other side. “There’s a dog kennel. The dog must be somewhere around.” He scanned the area. “I don’t think it’s sleeping.”
“Do you see any movement?”
“Ok, go on. Just be careful.”
After a few paces, something moved in the distance.
“Wait,” whispered Rind, although they were talking over the radio and their suits muted everything. “Did you see that?”
“Yes. It must be the dog.”
The dog barked.
“Freeze that damn thing.”
“I can’t, I don’t have the stunner. I can zap it with my laser.”
“No, no casualties, you know the rules.”
“It’s just a dog.”
The dog got closer. It wasn’t running, but with its brisk pace it seemed determined to understand what was happening.
“Shit. Don’t move. Don’t breathe.”
The dog reached them and started intently sniffing their legs. After it had satisfied its curiosity, it proceeded to pee on Rind’s left leg.
“Oh fuck. That’s great! Terrestrial dog pee on my suit.”
Gek couldn’t avoid laughing.
The dog trotted back to its kennel, seemingly happy.
“Don’t worry,” said Gek, still laughing. “Decontamination will clean that. Although I’m not sure the smell will go away, as it’s mostly ammonia. Probably decontamination will leave ammonia as it is harmless.”
“We’ll take care of this later,” Rind bellowed. “Go on now.”
They reached the door on the back, always keeping an eye on the dog.
Gek tried the knob. It unlocked and the door opened. It was dark inside, and everything was quiet. They went in.
“What are we looking for?” Rind asked, not liking being led.
“Something that contains copper and some plastic.” Gek looked around. It looked like a kitchen. “I’ll take that thing, it should be enough plastic to make the insulation for the wire.” He pointed at a large plastic bucket on the floor.
“Let’s see the rest of the house.”
They reached the bathroom and Gek pointed at the washing machine. “We could take the electric motor that’s inside this machine.”
“It will take forever.”
“Yes, but it contains a large amount of pure copper. It should be enough.”
Rind didn’t look impressed. “Ok, do it. I’ll have a look around,” he said as he walked away.
Gek took his multi-tool, which he kept attached to his belt. He tore off the side panel of the machine and looked inside. The motor was there, covered in a thick layer of dust and soot. He instinctively blew from his mouth. “That was stupid,” he said to himself. He reached inside with two hands, using the third to balance himself against the wall, and tried to wipe off some of the dirt. The motor came off suddenly, breaking its support bolts. “Shit!” Apparently, the machine was rusting to pieces.
“What?” Rind asked over the radio.
“Nothing. I’ve got the motor.”
“That was quick.”
“Where are you?”
Rind didn’t answer.
“Where are you?” Gek put the motor in the plastic bucket, took the handle, and walked back to the kitchen. “Rind? We have no time for this.”
Rind walked into the kitchen.
“What were you doing?”
“There were books.”
“Books? We can’t take them,” Gek said, then added with a mocking tone, “You know the rules.”
“I didn’t take any book. I was just looking through a few of them.”
“Found anything interesting?”
“Nope. Anatomy books. There were pictures of nude female humans.”
“We already have human anatomy in our computers. No need for that.”
“Yes, I know. I was just curious. Did you take the motor?”
“Yes,” Gek said, slightly raising the bucket.
“Good, let’s go. The power line is not far.”
They went outside. The dog was still sleeping in its kennel. They walked toward one of the two wooden poles. The wire hung loose, and it was clearly visible that a chunk of about one a half meters was missing, burned away by the powerful tractor beam.
Gek looked upwards. “I still don’t understand how a tractor beam burns everything in its path but keeps humans alive.”
“It’s something about it being focused properly. I don’t know. It just works that way.”
Gek exhaled, letting the matter slip off. “Levitation modules?”
“Yeah. I don’t see any other way.”
“It will be tight. We have a few minutes’ autonomy with these old suits.”
“I know. We must be quick.”
Rind walked to the other pole, fifteen meters away. They powered the levitation modules on their suits and slowly got to the top of the two wooden poles.
In a few minutes, they fixed the power line, using their Molecular Blenders — which worked surprisingly well — to melt and reshape the materials they had taken from the house.
“Very good. Let’s go home,” Rind said, satisfied with the job.
“Are we forgetting anything?”
“Hmm. I think we’re fine.”
They walked back to the ship, climbed the ladder, and jumped inside the airlock. The outer hatch closed, and the automatic decontamination procedure started. Something hissed. A red light blinked overhead.
“I hate this job.”
“You said that already. Two times, if I am not mistaken. Instead of whining, why don’t you remote-pilot this wreck back to the mothership while we decontaminate?”
“Right,” Gek answered. He started tapping on his portable command module. After several long minutes, something beeped, the red light stopped blinking and the inner hatch opened. They went outside the airlock, removed their suits, and proceeded back to the bridge.
“The ship says we’ll arrive in four and a half hours. Oh, and we do have enough fuel,” Gek said.
“Good. You know, all this could have turned out much worse. At least no one else saw us.”
The doors opened and they went inside.
“Yes, except them.” Gek pointed at two humans, standing in front of them on the bridge.