Gleeb, civilian researcher temporarily assigned to the Intergalactic Exploration Corps, stopped short at the words echoing in his head. Those idiots – he was just on a survey mission. Couldn’t they leave him alone for five minutes? “Alpha Thirteen, reporting.”
“Req ... t status rep ... t.”
He tilted his head slightly, hoping to get a clearer signal. The radio waves on this stupid planet were playing havoc with the inner ear communicators. Which, now that he thought about it, wasn’t necessarily a bad thing .... “Sorry Mission Control, your signal’s breaking up. I’m losing you ....”
A moment of silence, then, “How’s that, Alpha Thirteen?”
Gleeb sighed. “Just perfect, sir.” He maneuvered his data recording device back into position. “I have moved on to the second phase of my mission and begun a survey of the initial level of territory surrounding my base camp. Though there are no signs of the advanced civilization reported to be living here, I have already logged in several species of absolutely fascinating native fauna and flora ....”
The voice on the other end cut him off. “Any resources we can use?”
Gleeb bristled, his antennae twitching in righteous indignation. What, did they think Prolovium deposits just sat out in the open air, waiting for any idiot to smack into them? No – you needed a professional. “As I was saying, I have begun a very thorough survey of the area, but I still have a considerable distance to cover. The foliage, mainly long, flat stalks that do not appear edible, grow thickly over most of the area, blocking my view and impeding any readings I attempt to take.”
“Have you tried climbing them?”
He could feel his sides begin to quiver, never a good sign when one was attempting to avoid risking insubordination. “They aren’t sturdy enough, sir. Besides, sectional budget decreed that we weren’t to be allowed jet packs on this mission.” He looked down. “And it’s not as though our bodies are designed for climbing ....”
“Understood. I’ll transfer you to Lieutenant Trang to finish your report.” Translation: now that I know you don’t have anything I want, I get to move on with my life.
There were a few clicks, and another voice appeared in Gleeb’s head. “My man Gleeb, how’s it hanging down on the dirt heap?”
At the sound, Gleeb could feel himself settle, his outer casing fitting comfortably for the first time in what seemed like days. “Trang, buddy, next time I decide I need to go make something better of my self, tell me to go stick my head up a slime cleaner.”
“Consider it done. So, what’s up?”
“Not much – I haven’t even found the local water source.” He slid backwards a bit to allow a six-legged creature passage, with a slightly different back marking than the one he had already catalogued. “And definitely no sign of those ‘alien death crunchers’ that space creeper was going on about. I told you that guy had just been hit with some bad froom juice.”
Trang chuckled. “I know that feeling. Still, unless you come up with something more interesting, that’s gonna be the story that goes around. You know no one ever bothers reading the report.”
“Too true. I ....” Noticing something in the distance, Gleeb narrowed his eyes. “Hold on a minute, I think I see something.”
“What is it? A Prolovium deposit?”
“No – it’s too roughly grained for that, though the readings register as a mineral compound. But the geometric shape suggests construction, and there appears to be immense pale towers in the distance .... ” He moved closer, almost despite himself. “I’m going to get a better look. Alpha Thirteen out.”
Gleeb cut off communication before Trang could tell him to stop being a fool and get the glorp back to camp. He wasn’t going to do anything dumb like trying to approach the natives, of course, but if he didn’t get something useful out of this mission he was never going to get government funding. The space creepers had only gotten themselves in trouble because they hadn’t known what they were doing.
Trying desperately to remember the stealth section of the manual, Gleeb took a deep breath and slid forward, thankful that he had few inner organs to cause him problems during such stressful moments. He did, however, briefly gave in to the very unscientific wish that he had been issued a weapon, another thing that didn’t seem to fit in to this year’s budget ....
“The foliage ends at the edge of the unidentified material, which looks to have been manually cleared. The proximity to the massed foliage suggests a farm of some sort, or perhaps a preserve. I’m moving into the open area now.” Gleeb scanned his new surroundings, perplexed for a moment. He was so certain the towers had been right there ….
A rumble cut through the air. “Eeeeek, Mommy, a snail! Do something!”
Gleeb had only mere seconds before the shadow fell over his head, exactly like the one the space creeper had seen over the heads of his men. Some inner instinct told him that this had not been one of his more brilliant ideas.
He sighed. At least he wouldn’t have to write the report this time.
The mother, after a quick glance to make sure that the creature that had offended her daughter’s delicate sensibilities was dead, wiped her shoe on another part of the sidewalk.
“Great. I thought the gardener had already sprayed for that sort of thing.” She shook her head. “I hope this isn’t the start of an invasion or something.”