Squatters’ Rights: a short story by: GF Willmetts.

March 29, 2015 | By | Reply More

Get out into the countryside away from all the streetlights and, at night, you can see a fraction of the stars that are out there. It’s not that we are limited where we stand on the planet, just the atmosphere restricting the light of most of the stars reaching us. Did I mention distance as well? It’s no wonder one ancient philosopher said that there are enough stars out there for us all since the dawn of mankind to have one each. Mind you, getting to your own star would be problematic enough and house parties would be a bitch. What he didn’t know was that other alien species had this thought as well and were on their way to making it so. If that applied to all the alien species out there, then I wonder how many stars would be left?

Also a shame he never met the Verdi. Their name is much longer than that but this is as far as we could say it in English even if it sounded like some old Italian composer. They had a similar philosophy and also long-lived enough to actually fulfil this belief. Thing is that they didn’t see us as local inhabitants but squatters and the new owner that was going to be resident with a deed saying that this was his star and saw us as vermin. At least, I think he saw us as vermin? Why else would he be planning a mass extermination. Genocide to the nth degree. It took a little while to persuade it we were at least intelligent just not star-farers to move on, let alone that we were part of our planet’s ecology. An untidy one granted.. Of course, if they could provide passage, I doubt few of us would say no, especially when the alternative was death. The Verdi weren’t interested, mostly because we didn’t have anything they wanted. They had a ready supply of the transuranic elements and what knowledge did we have that they were long advanced from? Before we could find anything else to offer them, they were gone and only the now resident Verdi owner was left, happily planning behind his force field dome.

pulpy pulp

You have to see him close up to realise just what a creature he was. A giant troll, about twice our height, with a lot of tech. That’s how they could speak our language so quickly. It took them a trice to master all our languages. Weaponry as well and I doubt if it would be anything we could avoid quickly. More so when his encampment was shielded from us. It didn’t mean he didn’t come out and wander around us occasionally, mostly making notes to his tech. Quite what he was thinking, who knew? We suspect he had his own plans, including our removal. We hadn’t even given him a name. At least not one polite enough to say in front of his translator which could give him the meaning. He was just the Verdi and we were currently alive simply because he hadn’t decided our fate yet.

The humour in the world died completely when he started building something that had to be a bomb. Someone said it was something like Galactus would build only we didn’t have a Silver Surfer or Fantastic Four to rescue us. I guess it’s always hard to have a few laughs at the end of the world without appearing a little insane. Our number was nearly up.

It had occurred to a couple countries that they could try nuking him but we doubted if it would work and the collateral damage would do more to mankind and do his job for him. Screwed if we do, doubly screwed if we don’t. The ultimate no-win situation. We just had to hope we could live a little longer. No good even writing a will, who would be there to receive it? Even if we let loose the doomsday bomb at the end, all this Verdi would do is move to another planet. After all, he had the whole solar system to pick from.

Now there’s a thought. Which is why I was standing outside the Verdi force field dome, while the rest of the world was making its peace with whatever deity they worshipped. People found it very easy to find religion when they know death is imminent.

Me? I wanted to get drunk but wanted to share it with my Verdi pal and share some thoughts. All right, so he was no one’s pal but if he could stomach ethanol we could become drinking buddies. So I appeared at the base of his force field with a trolley of booze, neatly slow-frying my fingers by tapping on its electric whispers. I’m sure his sensor interpreters would pick up and interpret the Morse code. I didn’t have to wait long for the Verdi to come to the door or whatever he called the opening to his force field.

‘Want to sample the last of our delight?’

‘Why?’

‘We figure you’ll be killing us all in the morning so many of us are going to get drunk. After all, we aren’t going to have to worry about getting a hangover.’

‘You think getting me drunk would stop me?’

‘Hell no. I doubt if alcohol would have much effect on you. I just thought you might want to spend a little time with me. A dying race’s last request.’

‘You take death so lightly?’

‘Why not? We don’t seem to have any choice in the matter. You made that very clear and we can’t leave.’

The Verdi nodded and the field opened up and he came outside. The field twisted and created an invisible chair for him to sit on. He nodded and a smaller version of the chair appeared for me. It shimmered with a slight purple colour defined the shape. I moved the trolley between us and offered him a bottle. He didn’t bother opening it but ate bottle and all. I opened my bottle and took a swig, trying not to puzzle over the fact that he could eat glass.

‘Help yourself. We can always go down to the town and get more.’

The Verdi crunched a few more bottles. ‘I will send a clache to get some more.’

A floating machine left his camp. That saved one trip.

‘I didn’t realise a taste for alcohol was so universal.’

‘Only when it is coated in silicates.’

‘Silicates? Oh, you mean glass. We tend to use ice. Has a cooling effect on some spirits. I didn’t realise you had a taste for it. We could have made all kinds for you. Sand it pretty common around here.’

‘You have fragile metabolisms.’

‘My species is not as old as yours. Tell me, do your people come across many sentient species as you take over their star systems?’

The Verdi paused. ‘Ecologies, yes. Primitives that can communicate, no.’

‘And yet you have devices that allow communication. Surely that meant your ancestors must have felt a need for such equipment. Would it have just been to tell…people like us that we were going to die if we didn’t move on? I mean, why bother? Why not just detonate your bomb or whatever you plan to do with us?’

‘I need your planet to propagate.’

‘To breed? On your own? You do pathogenesis then?’

‘I carry a gene pool selection.’

‘But first you have to terraform my planet?’

‘Terraform? To make it like your world?’

‘That’s what we would like to make other worlds habitual for us. You’re going to do the equivalent to our world to whatever word you use for it.’

The Verdi chewed a few bottles contemplating. I took a swig from my bottle.

‘Yes.’

‘We always thought it would take many centuries to change any world. I presume your equipment does it a lot faster?’

The Verdi consulted one of his devices before saying, ‘Time is relative’.

‘But you could do it to any planet? Why pick on Earth? Couldn’t you do it to the other planets in our star system?’

‘Not the gas giants.’

‘You could turn them into small stars. Four of them. I’m sure that would help some of your off-spring by not having to go too far for their own personal star. You could even use their moons to make more habitable worlds for your people. Draw matter from the asteroid belt near here or the Kepler Belt that you must have passed as you arrived.’

‘I could still do that after transforming your planet.’

The Verdi device returned with an even bigger truckload of spirits. He ate a few while waiting for my response. He was still handing out our death sentence.

‘Why start with my world? The only other sentient species you’ve come across and you’re about to make extinct. That doesn’t sound like good logic.’

‘You have another option?’

‘If you want our planet, why not do us last? That would give us enough time to develop spaceships and we can leave you to it. We stay alive and you have our planet. Both of us are satisfied.’

‘You can do that?’

‘Now? No. A century of hard work, perhaps. Providing you give us the time and even a little technical know-how. Oh and a direction to go so we don’t bump into other Verdi with their own star. You aren’t in any rush, are you?’

‘I have obligations to my own species. To conserve space on our starships, we don’t reproduce until each of us have our own star system.’

‘Then it’s all hands to the pumps, huh?’

The Verdi nodded and chewed some more bottles. ‘I am already heavily pregnant.’

Looking at the alien, I wondered how anyone could tell the difference either way. Not male, maybe female. Probably like a sea horse.

‘How long before you give birth?’

‘Ten cycles.’

Cycles? How long is a cycle?

‘How long does it…would it take to terraform my planet?’

‘Fifty cycles.’

‘So they would be born into a world that would still under reconstruction?’

‘They would become part of the construction.’

‘Y’know, that reminds me of how my species came about here. We were born here after all.’

‘Indeed?’

Did I sense a bit of incredibility in the alien’s voice? I took another swig from the bottle, realised it was empty and opened another.

‘Yeah! We’re not entirely sure about our own origins. Various people have cited their own legends and gods for growing our own ecology over the centuries. These days, we tend to call it evolution. Sounds more scientific but it sounds pretty much like what you’re going to do here.’

‘And is this creator of yours still around?’

‘Sort of. We call him almighty and he’s pretty much omnipresent but leaves us from time to time. We have different names for him but there’s only one of him really. Pretty much like how you work now that you mention it.

‘We’ve made some mistakes with looking after our world once we were chucked out of Eden but I think it’s all part of the experiment when he gave us squatter’s rights to live here. We might not have the deed or contract to show, we’ve been evolving a long time, but this is our planet. I wasn’t going to raise this unless I had to.’

Or the fact that I just thought it up.

‘He can be pretty heavy-handed if someone upsets his plan. He’s been known to turn people into salt. Oh, he’s also been known to remove other apparent gods along the way as usurpers. You have access to our books and culture. Look at the Norse gods with their Ragnarok which killed them off. He’s a pretty powerful dude once aroused.

The Verdi paused and chewed some more bottles but it looked like he was listening to a different conversation. Was he checking our history? God, I hope I haven’t made any mistakes here. I was pretty rusty on old religions.

‘So he hasn’t abandoned you? My records say he hasn’t conversed with your people for some time.’

‘A couple centuries. I think he was getting fed up with this worshipping thing and wanted us to grow up a bit before coming back. A lot of the people are praying to him now. He could well answer them this time. I suspect he’ll be pretty upset if someone messed up his pet project.’

‘I keep thinking you are lying. The records also show humans lie a lot.’

I shrugged and took a nip from my new bottle. ‘Hey, I never said we were perfect. All I’m saying is are you prepared to take that chance that I’m wrong? I don’t think your people are going to come back any time soon either way. Will they care that your entire colony is atomised and mark you as a failure? You could move to Mars and fix it up in next to no time or however you define those cycles of yours. Venus is tougher nut to crack. Turning our gas giants into viable suns is going to give you a lot more matter as they shrink in size. It’ll certainly look like you’ve been innovating if your people look back this way.’

‘And he won’t object to this?’

I shrugged again. ‘All he gave us was this planet and that moon over there and that isn’t habitable, just something to control our tides. I’m not even sure if he wanted us to leave. We’re still too short-lived to become galactic travellers…yet. Maybe he’s waiting for us to figure it out for ourselves.’

The Verdi chewed on some more bottles.

‘You would tell him I spared your species if he returned?’

‘Of course. He might even like the new arrangement. Someone to help our progress.’

The Verdi paused an even longer time now before answering. ‘I shall not be able to leave right away. My clache will have to work quickly and alone on the rust planet.’

‘Pal, you can stay here as long as you like until it’s completed. Squatter’s rights an’ all. We wouldn’t expect anything else.’

He chewed on some more bottles. I took a bigger swig from mine. I could afford to now. I think I made a major victory. At least we could all wake up from a hangover in the morning.

 

End

 

© GF Willmetts 2015

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Category: Scifi, Short fiction

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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