Denebians are pretty fast when they intend to be and, by the time Widden had stopped yelling at Thud in a manner egregiously insulting to the patrimony and called Security, they were already across Constitution. When sirens approached, they made greater haste, weaving through the curious Japanese tour group gawking at the box, entered, strapped in, and transported to a stationary orbit exactly 300 miles straight up, an event partially captured by Hideki Noh on his Konica but which, because of the subsequent unfortunate events, held no benefit.
“My God! Atheists!” the first crewmen said, like Terrans would say ‘Neanderthals!’ It was an understandable mistake, the Council unaware of the deep complexity of Terran religious beliefs. The only Terran broadcasts they knew were Burns and Allen, Hitler’s speeches, and I Love Lucy, those somehow hooking onto the wake of a trans-star freighter passage and popping out for review. What could you conclude from those? The second Denebian was still trembling so added nothing and the third was downright incredulous. “How,” he said, throwing a still deep-emerald hand towards the Earth below, “can a race so obviously primitive and barbaric have reached the point of space travel?” They all three noted the International Space Station and the numerous satellites and then looked at each other.
Denebians don’t really need to speak; they do so because they find it interesting. Most of their communication is angling of various body parts, quite rapid, so, a few seconds later, when the third crewman grimly reached for the Stantatac drive, they had all agreed this was a matter for the Council, that a decision would take some time (not because of distance, of course, but due to the universal nature of bureaucracies, especially regarding such a weighty matter. Worse, the Arcturans had the Chair) and the threat must be contained in the interim.
When Thud had previously asked about exports, the Denebians weren’t sure how to answer. All Council cultures manipulate molecules, which meant autonomy and no great concern over natural resources. Everyone, then, had Stantatac drives, although that was somewhat of a misnomer. They were more like shields, able to repulse objects, and were generally used for games like Dodge Comet or to defuse a dispute when it got to the point of missiles being thrown between angry worlds.
But each culture had a unique twist that gave advantage to a specific product and usually meant a brisk trade between systems, with accompanying profit and loss and the occasional dispute leading to the toss of a missile. Denebian Stantatac drives were one such product because, unlike everyone else’s, they could be thrown. The shield could engulf an area about two or three parsecs away from the generator, which was great for practical jokes, such as keeping someone from opening their front door or a mating couple from each other. Pretty funny stuff, although it could be taken too far and result in a couple of missile exchanges between a Denebian practical joker and his (hers, whatever) target, especially if that was a sour faced Arcturan.
In this case, though, the throwing of a shield was not a joke but a Godsend, and the Denebians noted the symmetry between the problem of the Terran deviation and their presence in the area. Suppose no one had ventured by in, oh say, ten thousand years? Godless Terrans overrunning the planetary systems! The horror of that left them speechless (and gestureless) and the crewman threw the shield around the Earth with something akin to heroic determination. “There,” he said, “that’ll hold ’em.” And it would. He’d been careful to shape the shield so it encompassed the current orbits of Terran satellites, but not allow anything beyond that. The cancer was contained. They all praised God and headed home to report.
It took about eight months. The Arcturans wanted to bring the three Denebians up on charges for unauthorized contact with a primitive species, but use of nuclear power was the dividing line between primitive and modern, so that didn’t wash. They then went after them for the Stantatac drive throw, but most other Council members (and everyone in every culture was a full-fledged member) considered them heroes for it. “Imagine,” just about everyone (except the Arcturans) said at one time or another, “such godless barbarians loose in the Galaxy!” “With nukes!” someone else would say and there’d be a collective shudder. By the time all that was sorted out and an expedition of Acolytes carrying the Thousand Books of God assembled to go, some thought too much time had gone by and the Terrans may have figured out a way through the drive and they were all in big trouble.
So there was much trepidation when the ships popped into 300-mile orbits surrounding the planet. That quickly became consternation. “You’re sure this is the place?” the Chief Acolyte frowned at the Denebians. “Yeah! This is it!” the first crewman goggled at the ice world floating in front of them. “It wasn’t like that when we left it.”
It took a bit to figure it out, and the Denebians felt really bad. Seemed the settings of the Stantatac drive were normal for Deneb, with its raging power, but a little too dense for Sol. The shield had not only prevented anyone from leaving, but also the little star’s rays from entering. Ice age, almost overnight, so to speak. Nothing, and no one, left alive.
The Arcturans were all for execution of the three Denebians for accidental genocide, but there wasn’t a lot of support. Considering the nature of the dead Terrans, it might not have been the mistake it seemed.
Could have been the grace of God.
D. Krauss currently resides in the Shenandoah Valley. He’s been a cottonpicker, a sod buster, a surgical orderly, the guy who paints the little white line down the middle of the road, a weatherman, a gun-totin’ door-kickin’ lawman, a layabout, and a bus driver, in that order. You can find him online at http://www.dustyskull.com or buy his books on Amazon.