Monday, 22 September 2014

The Mutant



Moolora was the ugliest mutant in Spock City.

Now that is saying something. Spock City, after all, as anyone who’s ever gone there is aware, is crammed to the brim full of mutants, and no wonder too, given the amount of hard radiation raining down on it all the time. In fact, there are so many mutants that a normal homosapien like you or me is so rare as to be almost an object of suspicion. And, of course, mutants are ugly.

But even among them Moolora was unique in her ugliness.

“That Moolora,” a Spockian would say to another when they saw her pass. “Her looks would melt the teeth off a sandworm!”

“We should stick her out in the Chekhov Desert and watch the sandworms run for their lives,” the other person would reply.

Now, of course, this was very unfair, not just to Moolora but to the sandworms, who, as everyone knows, are despite their huge size gentle beasts which wouldn’t hurt a fly, if only there had been any in Spock City – or on all of Enterprise for that matter. But nobody thought of what was fair or otherwise when it came to making fun of Moolora.

All this, of course, probably made poor Moolora very sad, but she never said anything. One of the reasons she never said anything was that she found it difficult and exhausting to talk; the other was that it would have done no good.

Nobody wanted to listen to anything Moolora had to say.

Nobody was even sure where she came from, who her parents had been, or anything else about her. She seemed one day to be just there, hanging around the corners of the town, dressed in ragged clothes too big for her. Even she didn’t have any memories of the time before that. Most people thought she was the child of one of the mutant families living in the slum settlements around Spock City, who had abandoned their daughter in the town rather than bring her up themselves.

They didn’t blame the parents. Times were hard in Spock City, and one couldn’t expect them to bring up a half-dumb daughter with a face that could stop a clock.

But though they didn’t like her, and they made fun of her, they didn’t, of course, harm her in any way, for mutants know perfectly well they must always stick together. They even fed her and took care of her when she needed it, giving her their cast off clothes. And as the years passed, she grew tall and gangly, her hair the colour of a red giant star, and uglier and more silent than ever.

This was all before the discovery of shatnerium on Enterprise, of course, and the planet was still very poor and hardly anyone ever went there, and even fewer to Spock City. So Moolora grew up almost never seeing an offworlder, and possibly unaware that such beings even existed.

How did she spend her days? Nobody seems to know much about that. She slept on the streets, curling up in corners where it was warm, and adamantly refused shelter when offered it. Most of the time she seemed to spend hanging around the machinery spaces – the workshops, the ventilation systems, the powerhouses – which kept Spock City going, until the machinists all became so used to her that they learned to ignore her completely. She never said anything, never got in the way. She seemed happy just to be there.

They decided that she was crazy, but harmless, and best left alone.

And then one day the pirate invasion struck Enterprise. The pirates came down from space, their longships shrieking through the air as they glowed white-hot from the friction of their passage, spraying mindbombs behind them as they went like malevolent dew. By the time the last had landed outside the towns, almost all the minds of the people had been temporarily neutralised – with a few exceptions.

The mindbombs had been constructed to be used on homosapiens, of course. They didn’t work on those mutants whose minds were too mutated, too strange. One of those mutants was Moolora.

Now the pirates hadn’t used heir mindbombs just to wipe out resistance. Part of the way they made money was in the slave trade, which, as you doubtless know from history classes, was an unfortunate feature of that dismal time. The pirates would wipe out the minds of their captives till they could reach the markets where they could be sold; it made them easier to manage and transport. Once the effects of the mindbombs wore off the captives would recover their faculties, but by then it was far too late anyway.

It had been a hard time for the pirates, too, otherwise they wouldn’t have bothered with mutants. Mutants didn’t fetch a high price in the slave markets of the Core.

Unsurprisingly, the pirates faced no resistance to their invasion; but they soon grew aware that there were still some minds still functioning, and they set out to track them down, one by one. They, naturally, had brainwave detectors which let them know exactly where to look. And one by one they got them all, pulling them out from wherever they were hiding, and crammed them into the slave cages aboard their longships.

Then there was only one left, and they found her easily enough.

So they came for Moolora where she sat with her back to the steam pipes on McCoy Avenue, near where the heating vents from the deep power plants underground opened out into the city. They crowded around her in their tough metal suits and their helmets with the visors pulled down to cover their faces as she sat, her tall, frail body almost lost in the folds of the clothes she wore.

“This is the one?” one of the pirates asked the one who carried the brain wave monitor. “Are you sure?”

The second pirate, who was a longship captain, glanced at him scornfully. “Of course I’m sure,” he said. “Look at the readout.”

“But who would find a use for such a creature?” the second pirate said, looking at Moolora. “Nobody will ever buy something so ugly. You can barely tell it’s even meant to be human.”

“Let’s see,” the captain said. He prodded Moolora with the toe of his boot. “Hey, you!”

Moolora turned her head slowly towards him. She didn’t say anything.

“Who are you, slug?’ the captain asked. “Do you have a name?”

Moolora didn’t say anything. Her voice didn’t want to work in her throat.

“Too stupid and too dumb to be of any use,” the captain said, disgusted. “I’m amazed it has any brain at all.”

“Let’s kill the damned thing,” the second pirate suggested. “It’s too ugly to let live.”

“No,” the captain said. “We can’t spare the ammunition – or the time. Get the booty on board and let’s go.”

So the pirates left Moolora where she was sitting and went back to their longships. And after loading what little there was to loot, and the remaining captives on board, they rose up through the atmosphere, the fading screams of their engines echoing long after they had gone.

Then Moolora got up slowly from where she had been sitting, and began wandering through the deserted city. As she walked, she began picking up things at random – here a broken chunk of metal, there a smashed piece of electronic equipment left over from the brief pirate occupation, and from somewhere else a length of corrugated pipe and a mass of cable. Eventually, laden with her booty, she reached the metal scrap dealers on Scotty Boulevard were located back then, where the old drop tanks from derelict space freighters used to be cut up. There she dumped it all and went back for another load.

Then, when she had apparently found all she needed, she took a cutting torch from the nearest workshop, crawled into the biggest of the drop tanks, and got to work.

********************

The pirate mothership Jack Sparrow had already left the system and was settling down for the cruise through interstellar space.

In the control room, deep in the heart of the huge mothership, Grand Captain Rajinder Singh Redbeard had just begun congratulating himself on a successful mission. The planet had not been a rich one, and so there had been little booty, but the haul in slaves had been worth the effort. Even though they were only mutants, once they’d all been sold in the markets of the Core, there would be enough money to finance a larger expedition to a more lucrative target.

Yes, Grand Captain Redbeard was almost content. And he was not at all pleased to have that contentment disturbed by the news that the scopes had picked up something coming up very fast from astern.

“How can anything be chasing us?” he demanded. “There were no warships in all the system. We checked.”

“See for yourself, Redbeard,” his second in command said, and indicated the screen. “There it is.”

Together they watched the blip in the scope grow larger and more distinct.

“It’s far too fast for a warship,” Redbeard said at last. “I’ve never seen anything that could move so fast, not even a racer.”

“It’s too small for a warship, too,” the second in command observed. “Let’s see if we can get a look at it.” He pressed a couple of buttons and the blip in the screen grew larger and yet larger, until it wasn’t a blip any longer.

“I can’t believe it,” Redbeard said at last, looking at the grey ovoid object on the scope.

“It’s a drop tank.” The second in command peered at the screen unbelievingly. “We’re being chased by a drop tank.”

“How can a drop tank even move by itself?” Redbeard asked. “It’s impossible.”

But it was clearly not impossible. The object grew and grew, until it filled the screen. It was so close now that every dent and ripple in its metal hide was clearly visible to the two pirates.

“All rear laser turrets,” Redbeard ordered, “open fire.”

“We can’t possibly miss,” the second in command said, and pushed the firing button.

He was perfectly right. They didn’t miss. But even as the turrets bathed the pursuer in their lethal beams, its grey surface changed instantly. One moment it was rough, pitted metal; the next, brilliant silver, a perfect mirror which reflected the lasers harmlessly away into the void.

“Rail guns!” Redbeard yelled. But the rail guns fared no better than the lasers, their pellets glancing off the smooth surface of the pursuer. In fact it was so close that some of them ricocheted off and struck the Jack Sparrow herself. 

“Full speed ahead!” Redbeard screamed. But even he could see it was too late. The silvery object behind was already upon them.

And then it happened. From the bright mirror-surface came snaking metal tentacles, tipped with hooked claws. They crunched into the back of the Jack Sparrow. The claws cut into the hull as though it was made of cardboard, and then they closed tight.

Then the drop tank reversed direction and began dragging the giant mothership back towards the system it had just left.

“Full power!” Redbeard yelled. “Full power, by the moons of Mercury!”

It didn’t help. It didn’t even slow down the rate at which the pirates were being dragged back towards Enterprise.

The intercom was filled with panicky pirate voices, demanding to know what to do. The second in command, too, looked helplessly at Redbeard. “Captain?”

Grand Captain Redbeard swallowed. “Abandon ship,” he said. “Let’s take to the longships and get the hell out of here.”

“But,” the second in command argued, “the longships don’t carry enough fuel to take us back home, us and the cargo...”

“To hell with the cargo,” Redbeard snapped. “Let’s get out of here while we still can. Abandon the cargo!”

So it was when Moolora returned to Enterprise, she was towing behind her not just the Jack Sparrow but all the captives – the entire population of the planet, every single one of them. And with the departure of the pirates, they had begun to recover from the effects of their mindbombs. By the time they were down on the planet, they were all fine.

Nobody knows what happened to the pirates. Presumably they managed to get home and resume their criminal activities, but they never returned to Enterprise. And shortly afterwards, shatnerium was discovered, so Enterprise had money enough to afford protection. It never had to fear pirates again.

Moolora’s drop-tank spaceship is still there, outside Spock City, preserved to this day as an honoured relic. If you ever go to Enterprise, it’s the one place everyone will insist you visit. It’s almost holy to them, and no wonder, since they owe their existence to it.

Well, of course the scientists tried to find out how it worked. When the story got out, they came from all over the local cluster to take a look at it, and the Navy people came too. But try as they might, they could never get it started again, and nor could they understand just how Moolora had taken a drop tank and a load of junk and made it into the fastest, most invulnerable craft the galaxy had ever seen.

Did they ask Moolora? Of course they did. They asked and begged and pleaded, and they would even have threatened if the Spockians hadn’t told them they’d be thrown off planet without benefit of spacesuits if they touched a hair on her straggly head. But Moolora never said a word. It hurt her throat to talk.

And if anyone ever brought up the topic again, she would just shake her head and smile.


Copyright B Purkayastha 2014




Thursday, 18 September 2014

Winning the Lottery

Class”, said Miss Bliss, “Mary has something to tell us all today.”

Everyone looked at Mary, who stood up, blushing with pride. “My dad,” she began, “has won.”

“Won what?” somebody asked.

“The lottery, of course,” Mary said impatiently. “Will you just listen?”

“The lottery?” Everyone gasped in wonder. They all knew which lottery, of course. The news had been full of it all week. “You mean your dad –“

“Yes, he’s going to be on the firing squad!” Mary said gleefully. “He said it’s the best hundred dollars he’d ever spent.”

The class fell into an excited buzz until Miss Bliss called it to order. “Now, everyone,” she said, “this is a very proud moment for us all. Mary’s father will be one of just six men in the entire state who will get to be on the firing squad. Won’t that be great?”

Mary smiled at Miss Bliss, who was very pretty. Mary had a huge crush on Miss Bliss and wanted to be just like her when she grew up.

“Of course, it’s not just a matter of being famous,” Miss Bliss said. “Mary’s father, Mr Cummings, will be doing a very important job. Can anyone tell me what it is?”

A thin arm rose at the back of the class. “It’s to kill that bad man,” the owner of the arm said. “That Douglas.”

“Yes, Douglas,” Miss Bliss replied. “A very bad man, as we all know. He killed two policemen, and you know policemen are good people who keep us all safe.”

“I saw him on TV last night,” the boy at the back said.

“Yes, very ugly, isn’t he?” Miss Bliss shuddered delicately. “You can see the evil in his face. Anyway, he has to be punished for killing those policemen, and Mr Cummings, Mary’s father, is going to help do the job.”

“My father said they put a blank bullet amongst the real ones,” Mary said. “But he says that he’ll insist he gets a real bullet. He said he wants to be sure he does his job, and by God...”

“Mary,” Miss Bliss said warningly.

“Sorry,” Mary replied contritely. “He said he paid for the chance and won’t be deprived of the kill.”

“He’s a brave and good man,” Miss Bliss said. “You could ask him to come to the class tomorrow and give us a talk on how the execution went.”

Mary blushed even pinker with pleasure. “I’ll bring him along with me,” she promised.

“That’s good,” Miss Bliss smiled. “I’m sure your mother is very proud. Will she go along with your father to the execution? I’m told the lottery owners can bring along their family members as witnesses.”

A brief shadow passed over Mary’s face. “I don’t know,” she confessed. “She said she doesn’t want to be the wife of a killer. There was a row.”

“I’m sure it will be quite all right,” Miss Bliss said hurriedly. “Now, everyone, open your textbooks and turn to page forty-three...”

***************************

Mary,” Miss Bliss said the next morning, “I see your father didn’t come with you.”

“No, Miss Bliss,” Mary confessed. “He said he didn’t want to come.”

“Why not?” The class hadn’t yet begun, and the other children were still coming in. “I saw in the news that the execution went off all right.”

“Yes, he said it went fine.” Mary scuffed her shoe on the floor. “He didn’t want to talk to me about it though. When he came back this morning his face looked all funny and grey.”

“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Miss Bliss said soothingly. She held up her newspaper. “Look, here’s a picture of your father and the other members of the firing squad, right on the front page. And here’s another picture of the chair in which Douglas was shot.”

Mary looked at the paper. “My, dad looks fine, doesn’t he?”

“I’ve got an idea,” Miss Bliss said. “Why don’t you talk to the class this morning, show them the paper, and tell them all about how your father won the lottery and did his duty? Would you like to do that?”

Mary nodded, her heart filled with love for her teacher, and she thought once again that Miss Bliss was a very pretty woman, and she would grow up to be just like her, after all.



Copyright B Purkayastha 2014