Pest Problems

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
I wrote this years ago for an anthology. Enough time has passed that I figure I can reprint it here.

Submitted: July 11, 2017

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Submitted: July 11, 2017

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My “home” is a corrugated steel barn, 14 meters long, 8 meters wide, and 6 meters tall.  I could give you more accurate measurements, but what would be the point?  The sole occupant is yours truly, so there’s a lot of empty space.  The barn’s rusting in a few spots and there are holes in the walls because my owners threw it together too quickly.  The floor is concrete, about a meter thick.  If I were actually standing on it I’d crack it right to the bottom.  Lately I got some roommates in the form of paper wasps building a nest in the rafters.  I really should get rid of them, but watching them is mildly interesting.  I’ve been thinking about giving them names.

This day will be a bit different from the last six months, since one of my owners called ahead to say he’s stopping by to visit.  It would be a great day if I could step on him, but there are all sorts of ethics programs inside my head to keep that from happening.  I know his exact position from two kilometers away, what his health is like, what he’s driving, and that it really needs attention from a good mechanic.  He takes his time getting here and opens the doors slowly.

“Ten oh Forty, you’re looking good,” he says with false cheer.

“Hello Councilman Cordovan.  Gee, you’ve put on even more weight since your last visit.  What’s it been, four months?”  I’m bitter and I make no apologizes.

Cordovan grumbles under his breath and sucks in his gut.  Cordovan’s in his forties and his clothes show he has more money than taste.  He’s got to look up to see my head, a little more so since my antigravity generator keeps me one centimeter above the floor.

“For what we paid for you I think you could at least be civil,” he complains.

My head swivels in its socket to look down on him, literally and figuratively.  “I’ve spent the last six months in a metal box with nothing to do and no access to the local media grid.  If you want happy you’ll need to buy me a personality package.  I think they go for around fifteen hundred dollars.”

Cordovan actually smiles at me.  “Well then I’ve got just the thing to cheer you up.  I have some work for you.  Get you out in the fresh air, get you some exercise, that’ll do you some good.”

“Work?” I ask hopefully.

Cordovan nods.  “It seems there have been some problems at the farms in Austin County.  There are bugs about a meter or two long attacking locals and their livestock.  Situation just came up out of nowhere.  I talked to the Planetary Council and we agreed to send out our brand new problem solver to take care of things: you.”

Oh for the love of…this is too much!  “Cordovan, I’m a tenth generation combat android!  I’m supposed to fight armies.”

“Then this should be a piece of cake,” he chuckles.

The urge to kill him, coupled with the ability to do it 4,000 different ways, is damn near irresistible.  It takes a lot of effort to control my voice.  “Clockwork Mechanics sells pest control androids.  Fourth generation, good for years, costs 18,000 dollars apiece.  Is there any reason why you can’t buy one and use that instead?”

“Yes.  You’re here.”

 

I ought to make some introductions while I’m on route.  Welcome to the planet Edge World, so named because it’s on the edge of explored space (yeah, I know, that’s what passes for clever around here).  Edge World has a population of four million and rising fast.  Most of the planet is savanna or light forest, with one big ocean and three little ones that take up 80% of the surface area.  People only started settling here fifteen years ago and they’re scattered all over the planet.  Since it’s such a new colony the locals are still getting basic services up.  There’s not much in the way of mining or manufacturing yet, but plenty of agriculture.

The locals have an elected body called the Planetary Council, and two years ago they contacted my manufacturer Clockwork Mechanics to buy me.  After months of negotiations, 1.9 billion dollars, and a very boring trip on a freighter, I was delivered into their waiting arms.  My only goal in life is to obey and protect my owners, which technically means every one of these four million idiots in my boss.  For practical reasons I only answer to the Planetary Council.  In their infinite wisdom, they dumped me in a barn a hundred kilometers from the nearest settlement, gave me no access to the media and communications grid, and ordered me not to talk to anyone.

It’s a good thing I have to protect these people, otherwise I’d kill every last one of them.

Before I took off I managed to get permission from Cordovan to access the planet’s records department for information about the bugs.  I came up with nothing.  No one knows anything about these bugs, and there’s no record of previous attacks on people or livestock.  For that matter there are no maps for areas outside the nearby farms, no lists of indigenous species, and no studies of the local ecology.  It’s pretty much just business records and property registrations.  It takes real effort to be this ignorant.

Cordovan left me coordinates for a ranch where he says the attacks started, and he gave me the name of the owner.  It’s 10 AM when I spot the ranch and its owner Jasper Briggs as I fly overhead.  I find a patch of rocky ground just outside his property and land there.  The ground here is firm enough that I can actually set down without sinking in up to my knees.

Briggs is waiting for me with an expression of either awe or fear, either of which would be understandable.  At four meters tall and weighing in at sixty tons, I’m damn impressive.  I’m roughly shaped like a man, but it’s hard to tell under the weapons and armor.  Four missile tubes with ship killer missiles hang off my back along with two folded up attack drones. There’s a cannon built into my left shoulder and sixteen weapon’s ports on my arms and chest.  My head is a perfect sphere with only the top third and my one green eye rising above my chest.  Landing this close to the ground kicks up a lot of dust on my gunmetal gray armor.  If Briggs is intimidated, he should be.

Briggs is a little over two meters tall and weights roughly 88 kilos.  He’s older than Cordovan and in better shape than the councilman ever was.  The guy’s got a particle beam rifle that’s older than he is but in good condition.  His clothes are worn and dusty, but my attention is drawn to his boots.  They’re leather and one of them has a strip cut out by the toe.  The damage looks recent.

“So,” he drawls, “you’re the help they sent me.”

“War Driver 10040, tenth generation combat android, manufactured by Clockwork Mechanics, at your service.  Cordovan said something about bugs he wants stomped on.  Did they do that to your boot?”

He nods a bit.  “Yeah, and they slaughtered four of my cows.”

“How long ago did this start?”

Briggs shrugs.  “They started killing cattle two days ago, but I think it goes farther back than that.  I’ve seen a lot of local critters dead and being picked at by scavengers these last few weeks.  They may have done that, too.  They keep hacking things up and leaving them to rot.”

That’s different.  “These bugs don’t eat what they kill?”

“No.  They make an awful mess but all the pieces are still there afterwards.”

That’s odd enough to get me thinking.  “Have they ever done this before?”

“Not in the five years I’ve lived here,” Briggs replies.

“What about before then?”

Exasperated, he snaps, “How the hell should I know?  I just bought the land and made my home here.  Best I know there wasn’t anybody here before that.”

I hate these people.  I really do. They don’t care about anything they can’t spend, smoke, or screw.  They could avoid so much trouble with just a little planning and study, but they can’t be bothered to care.  Then they act all surprised when their willful ignorance causes trouble down the line.

Regardless of how incompetent my owners are, I still have a situation to deal with here.  The behavior Briggs is describing is weird enough that there might be a legitimate problem instead of a complete waste of my time.  I need more information.  “Cordovan said you knew a little about these things, like where they live.  I’ll need your help to deal with the situation.”

That gets him laughing.  “The walking tank needs help from a rancher?  Oh we really got our money’s worth on you.”

“Lay off.  I’ve been locked in a barn the last six months and I don’t need any more grief.”

I spend a few minutes quizzing Briggs about the bugs.  What are they called?  He doesn’t know.  What do they eat?  He doesn’t know.  How many of them are there? Same answer.  He does know where he first saw them and where they’re in the greatest concentration, a sinkhole a few kilometers off his property.  The ground is too rocky for him to use his ground car and I’ve no intention to carry him, so with some delay and much grumbling we set out on foot.

It’s pretty landscape outside the cow pastures.  There are limestone outcroppings and ledges rising out of the soil, and tall grass and scraggily trees around them.  It’s warm and sunny, and the ground is dry.  Throw in some boulders and you’ve got a pretty clear picture.

What I don’t see much of are animals.  Between introduced Earth stock and native life forms, there ought to be quite a few life signs.  There are some insects buzzing around, but that’s about it.  I ask Briggs about the lack of animals and he doesn’t know or care about it.  Big surprise.

“So,” Briggs asks casually, “what do you do?  When you’re not locked in a barn, that is.”

“Standard procedures for guarding a planet involve me making regular patrols of the system.  I’d leave remote sensors to detect incoming ships, clear away rogue asteroids, and perform background checks on incoming ships and crews.  All these tasks would be coordinated with local police and interstellar law enforcement agencies like the Celestial Knights and Templars.”

“And you’re not doing any of that?”

“I told the Planetary Council what I should be doing same as I told you.  They said they didn’t need anything that extreme and they’d call me out if they needed me.”

Briggs looks like he has another question when my sensors pick up movement ahead of us.  “Hey Briggs, what do these things look like?”

He spits before answering.  “The damn bugs look like horseshoe crabs on acid.  They’re maybe to meters long and got eight legs and a long tail with a sharp spike on the end.  That’s what they hit you with when they come at you.”

“Then that would be one of them.”  Eighty meters out I see the little beast come skittering around a boulder, tail slashing right and left.  Briggs’ description is on target.  It looks a lot like a horseshoe crab, only bigger and with more spikes.  As soon as it sees us it runs straight at us, shrieking all the way.  Not the brightest thing it could do.

I snap open a weapon’s port on my right arm, and through the magic of modular assembly units I quickly build a five-barreled particle beam gun.  The gun slides out and fires once, hitting the bug dead on.  It explodes with a pop as the soft tissue inside it turns to steam.  Bits of exoskeleton fly like shrapnel. 

Briggs walks up to the smoldering patch of dirt and the bug’s steaming remains.  “You ever heard of the word ‘overkill’?”

I retract and break down the gun, then close the weapon’s port.  “That’s the lightest weapon I’ve got.”

Briggs grumbles some more.  He’s right to do so.  There’s no need for this much firepower in a fledgling colony like this.  I’m designed as a generalist, able to deal with whatever situation rises up.  This job calls for animal control, or a policeman at the very worst.  You don’t need a top of the line combat android for that!  Still, the founding fathers paid their money, so here I am.

The next hour of our trip is uneventful.  We don’t run across any more bugs and Briggs mercifully spares me any more of his snide comments.  I do detect a lot of incoming and outgoing freighter traffic in high orbit.  Ships are landing all over the planet, and I don’t detect anyone boarding them before they land.  I ask Briggs about this and he looks at me like I’m a moron.

“Why should anyone board them?” he snorts.

“Don’t you have people inspecting them before they land?” I ask.  That one gets me another dirty look.

“Hey, if it’s legal for us to have a walking tank like you, what could they be carrying that’s illegal?”

I can’t believe he said that.  “There’s a hole with no bottom.  Let’s see, wanted criminals, drugs, stolen property, hazardous materials, passengers with communicable diseases; let me know when you want me to stop.”

“Maybe they got inspectors on rich worlds,” he says sourly as we walk.  “That’s money we don’t have.  Besides, who’d bring drugs or hot merchandise out here?  It’d be too much work and too big a chance they’d get caught.  No, the criminals stick around the rich planets where they can make a killing.”

I let it drop at that.  If my owners don’t want incoming ships searched then I don’t have any say in the matter.  Sure, my ethics programs can butt in and allow me to disregard orders in an emergency, but they won’t do that without proof.  It’s galling to know what needs to be done and be able to do it, only to have idiots get in the way.

Another hour’s walk brings us to a gully stripped down to the bedrock by flashfloods.  At the bottom of the gully is one of Briggs’ cows.  Well, the pieces anyway.

“They did a real number on this thing,” I say as I walk closer.  Briggs was right, there’s a lot of tissue damage but the whole carcass seems to be present.  It looks like the cow was chased into the gully and then broke its leg in a fissure in the limestone.  The bugs must have spent a couple of hours working out their frustrations on the body, far beyond what was needed to kill it.

“I didn’t need this,” Briggs says bitterly.  He’s keeping his distance, and with the smell coming off the carcass I don’t blame him.  “I finally got my herd up to good size, enough I could sell some of them off and buy new equipment, and then this had to happen.  You’d better not screw this up or I’m ruined.”

I inspect the carcass more closely.  Oddly enough, there are five large insects around the cow, all of them dead and chopped up.  They are long and spindly and have transparent wings.  “Hey Briggs, what are these things?”

He looks at them and spits on the ground.  “Buzzards, or the closest this world has to them.  They’re always hanging around the slaughterhouse trying to get in.”

“Then it looks like the bugs don’t just have a grudge with you and your—hey!”

I would have never guessed.  One of the bugs was hiding under a 50-kilo piece of Briggs’ cow.  It lunges at me and latches onto my wrist.  The fool thing is biting my hand and lashing me with its tail spike, shrieking the whole time.  In a few years it might scratch my paintjob.  Unfortunately for the bug, it’s right in front of a weapon’s port.  I snap the port open, create a particle beam gun, and blast it off.

“Well that was different.”  I should have spotted the bug, but I didn’t scan the area.  That’s what I get for being sloppy.  I scan the surroundings closely.  “Briggs, would you mind taking two steps to your right?  Thanks.”

I shoot twice more and hit the bugs that were sneaking up on Briggs, reducing them to smoldering patches on the ground.

Briggs swings around and points his gun at the dead bugs.  Angrily, he points at their charred remains and shouts, “Damn it!  Why didn’t you do something about them first?”

I retract and disassemble the gun as I answer.  “They weren’t close enough to be a threat.”

I don’t think he liked that.  Red faced, he shouts, “Sure, they can’t hurt you, but what about me?  Hell, you’re supposed to be protecting us.  I’m one of your owners you damn pile of scrap!  We paid a fortune for you.  The least you could do is care whether we live or die!  That’s what you’re supposed to do!”

I turn and walk slowly towards him.  Every step I take cracks the limestone under my feet.  When I start to talk, it’s very slowly and quietly.

“What I’m supposed to do?  I am a tenth generation combat android.  I can build laser guns, particle beam weapons, antimatter grenades, gravity crushers, dimensional shift cannons, atomic severing beams, slave spikes, and warp guns.  I have ship killer missiles and attack drones.  I can smash entire armies, I can swat ships out of orbit, I can survive a point blank nuclear attack, and I can fly from here to the nearest star system.  The only thing that stands a chance against me, one on one, is a ninth generation Nobunaga class android.  And I’m smashing bugs.”

Briggs backs away from me.  His eyes are as wide as can be and all the color drains from his face.  I keep walking towards him.

“What I should be doing is fighting wars.  It’s what I was built for.  It’s what I’m good at.  I could be the difference between some poor grunt on my side going home to his family, or the guy’s parents getting a letter that starts ‘we regret to inform you’.  What I am doing, instead, is nothing.  There are dozens of companies you people could have gone to, thousands of designs you could have picked.  Most of them would have been exactly suited to what you’re doing here, which is nothing.”

Briggs is up against the side of the gully, the same one his cow ran into and got slaughtered.  He’s shaking like a leaf.

My voice begins to rise.  “What the hell did you people think you were doing?  What gave you the idea you had to have me?  I put you back 1.9 billion dollars, and for what?  So I can spend months, or years, or decades sitting in a barn, cut off from the world, doing nothing?”  Screaming, I demand, “Why did you spend so much money on me if you weren’t going to use me?”

One of my ethics programs tells me to back off or it’s going to take action against me.  I step back and sit down on a boulder.  Almost as an afterthought I turn another distant bug to ashes.  More quietly, I tell him, “I’m sorry.  I’m pissed off and you’re not the one I should be pissed at.”

Briggs stops shaking and sits down himself.  “You, ah, you cost more than a billion nine.”

My head swivels towards him.  “What?”

“You didn’t cost a billion nine.  We paid five and a quarter billion for you.”

“The hell you did.”  I project a hologram in front of him and display my contract.  I scroll down to the end and stop at my cost.  “All Clockwork Mechanics androids come with a copy of their sales contract in case of fraud or android theft.  The Edge World Planetary Council paid one point nine billion dollars in purchase, permits, shipping fees, and warranties for me.”

Briggs reads the words slowly.  “I, uh, I’m not arguing with you, but when the Council said we needed protection from pirates, they took five and a quarter billion and all we got was you.  That’s a lot of money for a colony like ours, especially since all we have to sell is food.”

It’s something to look into later, but I have more immediate concerns.  “Come on, let’s finish with these bugs first.”

Briggs leads me on with some reluctance.  The sinkhole isn’t too far from where we stopped and not much to look at.  It’s a hole in the ground four meters across on a flat section of ground, crumbling at the edges.  There’s nothing near it but a few boulders and some spindly trees

“You saw a bunch of them here?” I ask Briggs.

He nods.  “It was a year ago, early morning.  I was looking for a cow that wandered off.  I found it giving birth next to those trees when all of a sudden all these bugs coming running by and go straight down the hole.  There were so many of them it looked like a river.”

“They didn’t bother you or the cow?”

“Nope.  They didn’t even seem to notice we were there.”

This makes less sense by the minute.  If the bugs were headed into a sinkhole at morning then they must be nocturnal.  They’d come out to feed and then take shelter during the day.  But I’ve killed several of them and the sun’s high overhead.  What are nocturnal animals doing out in the middle of the day?

I scan the sinkhole and the surrounding area carefully.  The first thing I pick up is bug blood, bits of exoskeleton, and chewed up muscle tissue scattered across the ground.  The chewed up bits of bugs are still moist, so they were killed within the last few hours.  There are traces of methane, ammonia, and carbon dioxide rising up from the sinkhole.  That’s normal for a cave with things living in it.  Echolocation shows the sinkhole is only one entrance of a large cave network.  Then I detect movement.

“Briggs, run.  Now!”

Briggs doesn’t get far before they come pouring out.  I don’t know what triggered it, maybe the echolocation, maybe the vibrations from me walking.  Whatever the cause, the bugs come out.  Thousands, then tens of thousands of them come boiling out of the sinkhole.  They’re moving fast, crawling over the ones in front if they’re not quick enough.  The bugs run in every direction, shrieking as they charge into battle.

I snap open a weapon’s port on my right arm and create a five-barreled particle beam gun.  Switching it to full automatic, I sweep my arm left to right in a wide arc and fire ninety rounds a second.  I kick up a dense cloud of steam as the bugs explode under my fire, and an equally dense cloud of dust as the limestone under the bugs shatters then burns from my assault.  It’s not enough, there’s too many of them coming out and they’re spreading out too far.  I hear Briggs scream as a swarm of bugs heads after him.

I launch both attack drone and send them to Briggs.  They burn the closest bugs to ashes and then land next to him, generating a transparent force field over Briggs just before the bugs wash over him.

The bugs keep pouring out of the sinkhole.  Hundreds of them jump me while I’m helping Briggs.  They’re latched on tight, biting and slashing away with their tail spikes.  The damn things are everywhere, biting me, biting the drones, biting the trees, and biting each other.  They’re even biting the boulders.  Worse, thousands of bugs are running into the countryside.  I’m in no danger and neither is Briggs, but if the bugs spread out far enough I’ll never get them all before they reach nearby farms and homes.

I retract the particle beam gun and break it down, then assemble a new weapon.  As the new gun slides out I order the attack drones to darken the force field around Briggs.  That still might not be enough.

“Briggs, cover your eyes!”

I launch an antimatter grenade.  It detonates twenty meters above the sinkhole and bathes the land in fire and radiation.  For a few seconds even I can’t see anything from the flash.  As the fire dies down I make Briggs’ force field transparent again.  The ground is scorched and cracked from the energy of the explosion.  The bugs are gone, all of them.  The trees and patches of grass went with them.  The only things left within a 150-meter radius of the sinkhole are my drones, Briggs safe behind the force field, lingering wisps of smoke, and yours truly.

“That,” I tell him, “is my second lightest weapon.”

“I take it back,” he gasps, his heart racing.  “I take back everything bad I ever said about you.  Good God, there were thousands of them!”

Briggs rants on for a while, but I ignore him.  I spend a few seconds reviewing the battle and what Briggs told me about the bugs.  The information doesn’t fit.

“Briggs, this is all wrong.”

“Huh?”

I turn towards him and lift the drones’ shield.  “In any fight it’s important to know what you’re fighting for and the other side is willing to die for.  With any luck you can give him what he wants and avoid the fight.  I can’t figure out what the bugs were fighting for.”

“Does that matter anymore?  They’re all dead.”

“Are you sure?” I ask him.  “If there’s even a few alive somewhere they could breed and start the problem up again in a few years.”

I let him think that one over before I continue.  “Briggs, as best I can tell these things weren’t attacking you to protect themselves since you weren’t attacking them.  It wasn’t for food, since they weren’t eating anything they killed.  It wasn’t to get you off their territory since up until now they didn’t give a damn about you.  That’s the only reason I know why animals attack.  Here, watch this.”

I project a hologram of the bug swarm and focus on the bugs biting each other.  “Maybe this was cannibalism, or maybe they were just too excited to think clearly.  But look over here.”  I show him the bugs that were biting boulders.  “What the hell is going on here?”

Briggs looks down at the opening of the sinkhole, now considerably larger after the antimatter grenade went off.  “Can you fit down there?”

I widen the entrance to the sinkhole a bit and then slowly float down, leaving Briggs on the surface with the drones for protection.  The sinkhole opens up along the side of a cave, which allowed the bugs to climb in and out easily.  The cave is three meters high, fifty meters at its widest, and just over a hundred meters long.Stalactites drip down from the ceiling.  There’s a lot of water dripping and pooling in the cave.  I can detect three tunnels leading out of the cave to other, even larger caves.

And in every direction there are dead bugs.

I crouch down to avoid scrapping the ceiling as I walk among the remains.  There has to be fifty or sixty thousand dead bugs here.  It’s hard to make an exact count since so many of them are in pieces and in piles five or six deep.  Some have been dead for weeks, others for hours.  They’ve been hacked to pieces, with legs, tails, broken shells, and blood everywhere.  Some of them look like they were chewed on.  My scans show more dead bugs in the caves connected to this one.  As best I can tell the bugs did this to each other.

There are a few bugs still alive.  Most of them are missing too many legs to have climbed out of the cave for their attack on Briggs and I.  A few of them are alive and whole, but can’t seem to do anything except breath.  I pick up one of these and scan it.  X-rays show things moving around inside the bug.  With great care I crack it open.  Fifteen thin worms crawl out of the body.  They slither over my hand, trying to burrow into muscles and organs I don’t have.

I’ve been a damn fool.  I was too angry to think clearly; angry with Cordovan and his stupid Council and everyone here.  I should have grabbed the first bug I saw and studied it.  Briggs was right; if I’m this sloppy then whatever his people paid for me was too much.

I open four weapon’s ports and assemble some guns.  As the guns slide into place I call up to Briggs through the attack drones.  “Briggs, it’s going to get noisy down here.  Once I’m done I’m going to drop you off at your ranch and head to the capital.”

The drones relay his response.  “It’s bad down there?”

“Yes Briggs, very bad.”

Seconds later I fire the first of many antimatter grenades.

 

“War worms,” I shout over the chatter of eight hundred people.  This meeting hall in the capital could accommodate another thousand people, but this is all Cordovan could get together on such short notice.  Most of them look at me blankly.

“War worms are a species of intestinal parasite native to the planet Holdout.  In their home environment they are pests of large grazing animals called thuds.  Unfortunately they are capable of attacking non-native species.”

My audience’s attention is drifting off.  These are farmers and businessmen, what do they care about this?  It doesn’t help that the room is warm, the chairs comfortable, and the meeting is catered.  Time to wake them up.

“When infesting animals not native to Holdout, war worms cause uncontrollable rage, homicidal behavior, cannibalism, and eventually death.  And now they’re here.”

That did it.  All eyes are on me as I float a centimeter above the stage.

“War worms release a toxin in their waste products.  The toxic affects nerve tissue.  In thuds and other animals from Holdout this acts as an anesthetic so the animal doesn’t feel the damage being done to it.  It also kills other parasites that might attack the host.  In animals from other worlds, the toxin destroys nerve cells in the brain.  The damage is gradual and repairable if caught soon enough.  If not, the above-mentioned symptoms occur.  If anything eats the host, it will be infected.  If the host dies the war worms will burrow out and look for a new victim.”

One of Cordovan’s fellow Planetary Council members stands up and shouts a question.  “How did these things get here?”

“In all likelihood they stole away aboard one of the freighters that visited your planet.”

“You mean someone brought them here on purpose?” a farmer demands.

“I doubt the ship captain knew about it.  There are eight planets beside Holdout that have war worms.  That happened when ships brought in infected meat or animals.  The war worms escaped into the wild, multiplied, and spread out over the planet.  That’s probably how the worms arrived since you don’t inspect or quarantine incoming ships.”

That starts some of them shouting.  “Do you have any idea how much that would cost?”

I let some of my anger and disgust show through when I answer.  “I know how much its cost you not to.  You’re now the proud owners of one of the most destructive pest species in explored space.  Since your economy is largely agricultural the potential damage is that much greater.  Who will buy your meat and livestock?  How many colonists are going to come to an infected world?”

Dead quiet.  Time to give them the good news.  “I eradicated the initial infection, but it will take months to make sure we’ve got them all.  If the Planetary Council will vote for emergency measures to hunt down and destroy all infected animals you might be able to stop this before it becomes a permanent problem.”

I give them a minute to let that sink in.  “There is some good news.  I contacted all the doctors and veterinarians on the planet and none of them reported signs of infection in people or domestic animals.”

A quiet voice rises up from the back.  “These things can get into people?”

“Yes, but so far that hasn’t happened.  Gentlemen, this is a bad situation, but we may have caught it in time.  If you and your fellow citizens act quickly you might be one of the few worlds to eradicate a war worm infestation, but you have to start now.”

I have their complete attention for the next hour as I lay out my plan.  Cleaning up this mess is going to be painful and expensive, but as I said, the result of doing nothing would be worse.  It’s tempting to stop there, but I deliver the last part of my speech.  I owe Cordovan plenty for the last six months.

“There is one other matter that has come to my attention.”  Cordovan looks shocked; something about my voice tells him there’s going to be trouble.  I project a copy of my contract onto the stage and scroll down to the section dealing with my price.  “According to my contract, I was sold to the planet Edge World for 1.9 billion dollars.  In the course of my investigation it was brought to my attention that this data might be in error.  The local media and records department confirms that 5.25 billion dollars was paid for my acquisition.

“I have sent a message to Clockwork Mechanics for clarification, but it will take them a few weeks to receive it and send a reply.  Based on the information at hand, I believe the people of Edge World have been overcharged for my purchase.  I respectfully suggest that the Planetary Council investigate this matter closely so as to ensure there was no bribery or embezzlement involved.”

I float off the stage as a roar erupts from the crowd.  Angry men surround the few Planetary Council members present.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where the extra money went, and nobody likes being cheated.  Cordovan manages to slip away from his fellow citizens and rushes up to me.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he demands.

I suppose it would still be nice to step on him, but this is better.  Cordovan’s reputation is ruined and he’ll be luck to get off this world with his skin intact, much less his job and fortune.  With any luck his fellow men will hound him for the rest of his days.  Feeling happy in way words can’t express, I float off the stage and leave him to the rapidly advancing crowd.

Cheerfully, I tell him, “I’m looking out for my owners’ best interest, all four million of them.”


© Copyright 2017 ArthurD7000. All rights reserved.

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