by Gordon Johnson

Tags: Science Fiction, Humor, Space,

Desc: Funny Science Fiction Story: An infestation can be of many kinds. Tiny animals inside a spacecraft can be awkward, especially for an intelligent spaceship.

Biological life was still a mere intellectual exercise for most of the Personalia, them being a space-borne machine intelligence. Oh, they were perfectly aware that there were these biological races on various planets, and some of these races had provided individuals who had been aboard some of the Personalia ships, but for most of the many thousands of Personalia, biological life was something that only a few had encountered.

As a result, there was a certain naivety among the minds of these ships, and where one finds such a situation, there is scope for unfortunate errors; errors of omission rather than of commission. These errors were not due to lack of knowledge, for almost all of human knowledge, to take one example, was available to each of them. One may be aware of things as known facts, but be unable to react correctly when encountering the facts in person.

That was the situation when a Landership took a bunch of stranded Filoyarine personnel from a planet where their ship had crashed many years before. The term "crashed" is actually a misnomer, for these vessels were deliberately designed to "fail" and send various segments to land on a habitable planet. The crew – male and female in their standard ratio, one male to two females - were unaware of this plan, and thought they were on a journey of exploration only. Instead, they were part of an underhand scheme to plant colonies on planets around many stars. The landings were performed safely due to a stasis mechanism that froze the entire segment as it landed, and unfroze once the landing was successfully completed.

Not all of these crews landed on planets that were truly suitable for colonisation, for the concept of "habitable" is an indeterminate one, for one part may be liveable, while another may be inhospitable. The decision was made by the ship, from space, at a considerable distance, and completely automatically. Some planets were in an era of geological instability; others were inhabited by large and dangerous animals; some crews were landed on the worst part of the planet and found themselves in a dry desert or in a snowbound polar region.

One particular planet was found by the unprepared colonists to be unusual in that the atmosphere was much denser than their species was used to breathing. Fortunately for them, the automatic landing mechanisms were able to recognise such a problem, and so their segment was steered to a higher altitude. This was a high-level plateau, and so the crew found themselves on this plateau with no means of spreading beyond it.

The land itself was remarkable in that it proved fertile and not cold. The colonists were thus able to set up their colony and live a reasonable life. The next generation accepted their life as normal, for they had experienced nothing else, and along with their parents became familiar with the local flora and fauna. None of the local animal species was very large. There was something that looked like an oversized rabbit that did not burrow, but made nests inside protective prickly bushes. There was a small thing like a rodent, only it preferred to scamper up the small trees and make nests amongst the smaller branches. While the "rabbit" animals proved good eating, no attempt was made to eat the small rodents: it would be too much bother for little meat. These were discovered to be gregarious by nature, and the children of the unintentional colonists turned them into pets.

This then was one colony that was discovered by the Personalia, in a search procedure based on logic. The logic came from the Filoyarine practice of sending exploration ships out in all directions from the home planet. Crashed Filoyarine ships had emergency beacons aboard, complete with launcher. The beacon was sent up atop a slim emergency rocket, which was fired from its tubular launch frame. Once in orbit, the beacon made a subspace jump back towards the home planet. The beacon eventually ended up near the planet, broadcasting the position of the crashed group. As the home planet did not actually want the colonists back, the beacon was not simply ignored, it was transferred to a Lagrangian point further round the planet's orbit, where it could be conveniently forgotten as the signal was then too weak to be noticed by anyone else.

As it turned out, that was the safest place to leave them, for the home planet's people later fought a nuclear war among themselves, which had the consequence of radiation popisoning, leaving no one alive on the planet. When the Personalia discovered the beacons, they sought data from them about the locations of the colonists. For those beacons that had stopped transmitting, it was difficult to recover the exact locations of the planets, except by close examination of the now unpowered hard drive; but some origins were identified, and others presumed to have been in other directions. This left the Personalia to search stars in those unidentified directions, looking for habitable planets where the unfortunates might have landed.

After much searching, this odd planet was discovered, and the thriving Filoyarine colony discovered. On board the Personalia ship was a Filoyarine man previously rescued from a planet where his ship had been stuck in stasis for hundreds of years. He currently was providing contact and translation service on this expedition. The discovered colonists were asked by this Filoyarine whether they wished to be transferred to a more hospitable planet where others of their race were living. They agreed, having recognised that they had no future expansion opportunity on this planet. They were conscious of the already limited space available to survive where they were.

The Personalia asked what their numbers were, so that it could decide whether additional Personalia ships were required to transport them. The answer they got satisfied them that no additional transportation would be required, and that indeed, the colonists could each bring with them a bag of personal possessions. Naturally, the children regarded their small pets as "personal possessions", and popped them into their pockets.

So far, so good, you might think.

However, the people had to be transported up to the much larger Personalia Base ships, and Landerships were required for that task. Each Landership could take a limited number of people aboard, with their hand luggage, and so it was somewhat crowded inside. With cramped conditions, unintended things can happen, and they did. One pet crawled out of a pocket and dropped to the floor, where shortly thereafter it was trodden on, fatally injuring the animal.

The very high-pitched squeal that the injured animal produced was not very audible to the adult people, and it meant little to the young people, but that agonised squeal produced a panic reaction among the other pets in the accommodation. The jumped out of pockets and ran for cover, seeking the nearest hiding hole, to escape from the fear response engendered by the squeal.

Their panic enabled some of the small animals to scurry along beside walls, and into the first hole that appeared. These happened to be the entrances to the interior pathways used by the Landership's mechanoids - the semi sentient machines that performed all the tasks that the Landership was unable to do for itself directly. Getting entry at one point meant freedom to roam through the entire ship. The pets invaded the Landership's interior spaces, simply in a search of a safe hiding place. The term "safe", usually meant as far as possible away from the danger.

Now, this was quite a surprise for the Landership. It soon became aware of something scurrying around in its innards, and made enquiries of its own databases, its mechanoids, then of the passengers. The adults admitted that their children had these small pets, and that this may be the cause of the Landership's discomfort. It replied, "It is not a matter of my discomfort, but of infection. Small animals like these are equivalent to bacteria invading your own bodies. It can be dangerous, and at the least, inconvenient. If I deliver you to my Base ship as planned, there is a chance that some of these animals may infect the Base ship, and that would become a major problem. I do not intend to take such a risk, so I cannot take you to the Base ship until this problem is solved satisfactory. I must locate and capture these animals and dispose of them accordingly."

The children were horrified, thinking that their pets were going to be killed. The Landership disabused them of that notion. "I intend to capture them and return them to the planet. They cannot be allowed on my Base ship."

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Story tagged with:
Science Fiction / Humor / Space /