February 29, 2020

Free Fiction Friday: A Standard of Deviation Part 8

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It’s a rough job, being a quantum courier these days… Here’s the long (well since last Friday, at least!) anticipated penultimate Chapter 8 for A Standard of Deviation. If you’re new to the saga, be sure to start back on chapter 1, and you can read A Standard of Deviation and other thrilling and original tales of science fiction by yours truly in their entirety.


A Standard of Deviation


David A. Dickinson

Chapter 8

“Human contact with the Hivers (a local term for the Burnham’s Wasps) has stripped Terra of her cosmos-given rights…” Their leader would say in issued statements. He would go on for hours about how they could “decimate the system” (his own words) if their demands weren’t met. I could tell that they had no clue what to do with the Standard now that they had captured it, and were frightened by the imminent reply from the Confederation and what would probably be their last stand.

It was all a bit tiring, really. I told them that Malenkov lived comfortably on a private worldlet in the Canopus sector, and they retorted by saying that I was a ‘Terran stooge.’ I told them that it would take a conventional sub-light mission eons to place the first quantum gate at the LMC. They got angry and said that it was all part of some vague ‘plan.’ I pointed out that the Standard was a lump of lithium metal that could be mined on any pedestrian asteroid, and they wanted to hear none of it. Truth is, it’s the technology that can read the lithium ions down to the electrons and compare them that gives the Standard its capability to fling copies of us around the cosmos. A scan of a pink rhinoceros might work just as well, had it suited and been agreed upon as a standard several millennia ago by the physicists concerned…

Through it all, I missed Lila, and could have really used the wisecracks she always had ready for any given situation. Sometimes, I think that humor is the only real saving grace of sentience, and that the games that the MLA fanatics, or the gas miners killing Humbolt’s Leviathans, or the foolish politicians back on Old Terra play are delusions of civilizations that just needed to be weeded out along with so many obsolete and less deserving species…

But I digress. That’s the curse of academia and us Librarian 3rd Class types, I guess. We’re prone to what Lila calls an “occultation of the soul” another occupational hazard that I often suffer from.

I knew that my captors wouldn’t harm the precious Standard, and I had a pretty good idea that they wouldn’t harm me as they thought I somehow might have some understanding of the quantum physics that they worshiped. I didn’t mention that the case containing the Standard had a built-in disintegrator, and that I could activate it with one swift triple tap of a concealed contact that would randomly magnetize and render the Standard useless. I was to perform such a maneuver only if I was about to lose custody of the Standard, but the amateurish actions of my captors made me decide against it. The agencies that entrusted me with the Quantum Standard would take a dim view of its unnecessary destruction, and that would probably end my career as a galactic courier. Besides, I thought it might be a little more fun to take these bozos down…

They came up with the not-too-bright-idea that we would approach one of the lesser known portals on the outskirts of Kapteyn’s Star system and attempt to cross back to Vega. Two escorts would follow me in slapdash disguises. I knew that the local media was “abuzz” (no pun or offense intended to any compound-eyed Burnham’s Wasps that might be reading this) with my disappearance and would be easily alerted by my presence. To do his bidding, their boss had sent one lanky kid to trail us, and one small but headstrong girl was to accompany me through the portal. Any “funny business” she assured me, and the MLA was prepared to “take down the station,” but I had little doubts that they were just a group of frightened kids numbering less than a dozen with delusions of grandeur. In a way, I felt for her. Here was a terrified young girl who was playing her part in a silly game, but she was damned if she wasn’t going to play it to the hilt. I think she thought that she would get some sort of reward or perhaps a “terrorist-promotion” for carrying the Standard back to the Big Boys, but I knew that no outcome would be favorable for her, as I was about to demonstrate…

I immediately steered us towards a young male attendant as we approached the first customs checkpoint. He immediately started chatting us up, as I knew any Terran male would do when confronted with two presumably eligible girls… hey, I may study alien cultures, but I’m not clueless as to human mating habits as well. The talk made my companion uncomfortable, and she did her best not to draw attention to herself.

“So, where are you gals headed?” He asked, as he hinted that he might be an item.

I held back the urge to tell him that “We fellow travelers aren’t ALL alike,” but did mention that “The Blue Clams of Dnoces Secondus are hatching this millennia…”

This stopped him short.

Of course, every well-heeled astro-traveler knows that the “Clams of Dnoces Secondus,” while considered a delicacy almost as prized as the Standard itself, in fact turn red and not blue about once every millennia. This was, in fact, a duress phrase that we had been issued for this very occasion, and shortly after the customs officer flagged us through, a veritable Legion of Terran security officers descended on us and pinned us both to the floor. The duress phrase changed every trip, and its utterance at a portal checkpoint immediately triggered a silent alarm. As they sorted out who was who, I mentioned for them to not be too rough on the young missus that was my former escort, but I think it probably fell on deaf ears. I knew that the security guards would be instructed to recapture the Standard at all costs, and that even my life might be secondary to this objective. The MLA never did make good on their empty threat to ‘level the portal station,’ and I’ll probably make a point to visit my would-be captors in prison next run through this system in about a decade or so.

To be continued…

Don’t miss the conclusion of our tale next week… and if you can’t wait that long, you can read A Standard of Deviation and other original sci-fi tales in their entirety.

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