(Have you read WEBisode 1 “PULPED”?)
“Houston, we have a problem.”
That joke was getting old. Kevin Houston, Deputy Director of the “Destiny” Mars rover operations at JPL, was on his second shift in a row. He wanted to make Director, some day, and he knew putting in the extra time was one of the keys.
“Yeah, Jeff, I hear you. What’s the problem?” Kevin asked, running his hand over his bristly black hair, his mocha colored skin a sharp contrast to his piercing grey eyes.
“You’re gonna want to see this,” Jeff’s voice said, over the ear-bud.
“Can’t. I have a phone conference with Australia about video handoff in ten minutes. It will have to wait.”
“No. It won’t,” Jeff said. Kevin’s monitor dinged, indicating an instant live video feed for his viewing. He sighed and slid the mouse pointer over the link and tapped it twice.
He wasn’t sure how long he stared at the picture before he heard Jeff’s voice through the fog. He snapped out of his hypnotic state, but could not take his eyes off the screen.
“Jokes? You send a joke feed at this time of night?” Kevin said, reaching for his desk drawer and some disciplinary forms.
“It’s. Not. A. Joke,” Jeff’s voice said, intense with a no-nonsense tone. “Look at the sidebars. Those are the current feed rates, atmospherics, the whole show. That, my friend, is live. And we do have a problem.”
“Yes. Yes we do,” Kevin said, as he stood. He gathered up his touchpad, checked the charge and headed for ops. There were protocols to be followed and probably some new ones to be written.
The pad came to life and Kevin captured the screen for an instant email blast to his boss. And his boss’s boss. And everybody who was over him in the chain of command.
The screenshot was back-dropped by the beautiful and barren Martian landscape. The picture was taken from the rover, which was looking slightly downward from a small hilltop, no taller than two meters from the surrounding terrain. The sidebar was filled with all of the information that any scientist would need to prove the rover was still on Mars and it was early morning at its location.
Centered in the screen was a box. Metal-like. Covered in iridescent lettering that was fluid in its shape and spacing, but not like any alphabet he had ever seen. That was interesting. Hell, it was probably earth shattering in and of itself. But the object stuck into the ground beside the box was the real problem.
A sword. A long sword, with a leather wrapped hilt, and empty sockets where jewels used to reside. Two red crosses at the pommel ends and the words “de Molay in nomine Christi” in very easy to read lettering, etched in the blade.
Kevin Houston did have a problem and it was actually bigger then even he knew.
The sword. Everyone, back then, was talking about the sword. And the box. The alien box. The Rover had spent hours sampling, tugging on, and documenting the box. We weren’t going to get either item back on Earth anytime soon. Or so we thought.
And then everyone was talking about the Farkans, who showed up about five days after the first video of the “Sword of Mars” was broadcast.
Little green men.
They came barreling into the solar system in a flotilla of well-armed ships. On the way to Earth, they stopped by Mars and picked up the “artifacts”. They even brought them right back here for us to look at.
And they had questions.
Lots of questions.
When was the sword made? Who did it belong to. What was the residue in the alien box? Were there any matches to residual human DNA found in the box. They were very interested in how something from the 13th century ended up on Mars. Actually they knew, they just wanted to be sure before they went after the “culprits”.
It was the box. The writing was Denubian. Yep, you know the story. They are signed onto the Galactic Accords. Five hundred years ago, some enterprising entrepreneurs with the Denubian trade alliance had figured out a way to make a few creds off a backwater planet and its barely civilized sentient race.
Denubians are also meticulous record keepers. It took the Farkans, appointed to head the adjudication, less than a month to figure out that the Denubians had a penchant for three things that Earth had in abundance. Gold, people and chocolate. They had stolen what legend calls the Templar Treasure and divvied it up at a temp base there on Mars, leaving the valueless sword. No big deal.
Farkan ruling number one: They had to return the gold with interest.
They had grabbed a group of people to use as sex slaves. Seems humans will “do” anything and are always ready to try new things. Those early people and their descendents died on the Denubian home world from some sort of virus hundreds of years ago, so there was no real way to determine who was owed compensation, so we all got a little. Human and Denubian interactions, transactions and disputes were closely monitored.
Farkan ruling number two: A “Tie” always went to the human.
The chocolate. That was the big one. Seems the Denubians had taken the native plants and built a small empire growing, processing and distributing chocolate. It was the most popular product in the Galaxy. It was also a wholly unique product of Earth.
Farkan ruling number three: All past and future profits, royalties, facilities and distribution rights from or of Chocolate are the sole property of the human race.
That was thirty years ago and a lot had happened since. We are out here now. By “We” I mean the human race. Interstellar travelers. We can go anywhere for next to nothing, thanks to the Trust that the Denubians had to fund as compensation.
We are really naïve, so the Farkans have been very accommodating. And the Denubians have been very angry, but that means shit, since the Farkans have twice the firepower of the rest of the signers of the Galactic Accords, combined.
When the Farkans arrived on Earth, I had been a Philly cop, up for my third try at detective and it wasn’t looking good. Not enough connections and I had stepped on a few toes.
Hey, if you’re a cop, play by the rules. That’s what my Dad did. And his three sons. And his four brothers. It’s kinda a family thing. And it’s rule one with me. I had my integrity, but my prospects for advancement had gone down like a Falousian hooker looking for a “money shot” fix. (Yeah, it grosses me out that they get high off of our…emissions, but to each their own.)
So, I was one of the first ones to sign up to be a GISI. Galactic Intelligence Service Investigator. They are intergalactic detectives and law enforcement. Farkans wanted humans on the force to help ease our transition into being a good galactic neighbor. They also wanted investigators that were familiar with the local species traditions and laws. I made it in on my first try.
And now I am retired. Have been for years. I was part of the interspecies crime division, but that career is over. No regrets.
Well, not many.