56. TROUBLE ON PIURI 5*

Bea is not happy when one Piuri 5 sea monster is killed.
Can she save the others?

When a sea monster kills the ruler of a tribe on Piuri 5, the young heir calls for a Federation team to get rid of it.  Bea joins that team.  When more of the monsters are found dead, the new ruler calls Bea for help.

Length : 5 700 words.

1

“IT’S NOT A DIFFICULT JOB.”

 

I stood outside the door of Wellington’s office, took a deep breath, and called, “Open.” The door slid aside.

Wellington was in the command chair, the bottom of the U of seats, facing the terminal of Victor, the Galactic Federation computer. He frowned at me, and growled, “Bea! What do you want?”

“Obsidian sent me. From my reports, he knows I’m interested in the environment. He said you’d asked for an agent for an environmental mission.” Obsidian is commander of all the local agents.

“Humph! If Obsidian sent you, I suppose I’ll have to give you the job. But Vo-Axo will not be pleased to see a little girl.”

“Are you suggesting I can’t do it?” I didn’t try to hide my annoyance.

“No. It’s not a difficult job. I suppose you can manage it. But Reynard, the agent who usually does these jobs, is a grown man. He’s ill, and I didn’t want to waste an Investigator on a trivial job, so I asked Obsidian if he could send someone. When you see Vo-Axo, apologise to him. Tell him Reynard is ill, and Obsidian ordered me to send you.”

I couldn’t say what I felt like saying, so I said, “I’ll tell him. What’s the job?”

“It’s on Piuri 5. The whole surface of the planet is covered in sea, except for a small part, which comes out at low tide. The people live around there. The planet has dangerous animals called hamjas. They live in deep water, so they don’t normally bother the people. But one came into the shallow water, and killed the chief of the tribe. The people asked for someone to remove it. The actual job is done by a hunter – Vo-Axo – but, since it involves hunting a wild animal, Federation rules say that an agent must be present.”

“What does a hamja look like?”

He waved a hand. “Victor will tell you. Take a boat, and meet Vo-Axo in the Froff 4 communication centre at 10% tomorrow morning.”

“Thank you.” I went to the door.

“Wait, Bea. With Vo-Axo and Reynard, these jobs have always gone smoothly. Can I trust you to do this one without causing trouble?”

I said, “I’ll do it as well as I can.” Then I left before he annoyed me any more.

 

2

“WELCOME TO PIURI 5.”

I went to my cabin, where I ordered, “Wake, Victor. Let’s see a picture of a hamja from Piuri 5.”

It came up on the screen – a dark grey animal, shaped like an H. The front had two long tentacles, that ended in three thick fingers. The back had two long tails, fringed with fins. The thick body had two glittering black eyes in the front, and a round, tooth-lined mouth in the top.

It wasn’t a pretty animal, and it must be big if it had killed a native. I asked, “Show a double-decker bus on the same scale.”

That showed the horrifying size of the hamja. The tentacles and tails were at least twice as long as the bus, and the body was nearly twice as high.

Without much hope, I asked, “Will a stun-gun knock one of these out?”

“Of course. If you breathe on them, they faint.” Victor never misses a chance to be sarcastic. “Don’t be stupid.”

“I didn’t think it was likely. Then how do you stun them?”

“Use a bolt-gun. Load the bolts with narcotal.”

When Wellington gave me this mission, I thought it would be interesting. Now, it was starting to worry me. I asked, “Show a picture of a native of Piuri 5.”

When the picture came up on the screen, I said, without thinking, “I asked for a native of Piuri 5, not another hamja.”

“I heard you.” Victor was sarcastic again. “Has it not occurred to your brilliant brain that the natives and the hamjas might look alike?”

“Sorry, Victor.” I knew I shouldn’t apologise to a computer, but I couldn’t help it. “Show an Earthman on the same scale.”

That was more comforting. From fingertip to tail tip, the native wasn’t much bigger than the man.

I went to the store, for the equipment I’d need. The bolts were nasty things, like short, thick grey arrows – about 15 centimetres long, and thicker than my thumb. They were hollow, and filled with narcotal. When one pierced the hamja’s skin, the narcotal would be injected into the beast’s body, knocking it out – for up to eight hours.

With a longer barrel than my usual stun-gun, the bolt-gun felt clumsy on a clip at my waist. I also took a rack, which held three more bolts. It would be handy, but it also felt clumsy on its clip. I put three spare bolts in my backpack.

I hoped the Piuri 5 sea was calm, because the boat was small, like a shallow Earth rowing boat, made of grey plastic. The inside had rails for a single seat, and a socket for a control column.

The rim of the boat had five camera eyes. That meant it could move automatically, using a control unit, which could be fitted in the control column. I couldn’t decide which would be more worrying – driving the boat myself, or trusting the control unit to do it.

I was nervous as I went to the Froff 4 communication centre next morning at 15%, pushing a trolley containing the boat, the seat, the control column, and a backpack with the food and equipment I might need.

I sat near the entrance to the transporter corridor. A few people passed, looking curiously at me, but no one who might be going to Piuri 5.

About 15.5%, a door whined in the transporter corridor, and a man came out. Like me, he was wearing an expedition suit, so I could only see his head – thick grey hair, and bright dark eyes, above a bushy grey beard. He looked around the room, frowned, and sat near me.

I asked him, “Excuse me. Are you Vo-Axo?”

“Yes.” He didn’t stop frowning.

“I’m Bea.” I gave him Wellington’s message, including the apology.

He beamed. “Pleased to meet you, Bea. I’m sorry Reynard is not well, but you have an easy job. It’s one of those silly Federation rules. No one can hunt a native animal on any Federation planet unless an agent is present. Are you ready to go?”

“I hope so.”

“We’re meeting the new Piuri 5 chief on the planet. He’ll show us where the hamja was seen.”

As soon as the transporter door opened on Piuri 5, a cold wind blew in. I wheeled my trolley out, and saw the planet for the first time. It was bleak. The transporter opened onto a wet, dark grey rock, which stretched around it as far as I could see – which wasn’t very far, because a cold, damp mist hung over the place. The rock was covered with seaweed, except for a narrow band that led from the door to a sullen grey sea that swished gently on the rock. The smell of seaweed hung in the air.

A native was lying on the rock near the water. Vo-Axo raised his right hand in salute, and spoke into a wrist unit on his left wrist. The translation came through wrist units on the native’s wrist and mine. “Greetings. My name is Vo-Axo, and this is Bea. Isn’t the chief of your tribe coming to greet us?”

I understood why he asked. This native was small – a young one. Earth children can sense the feelings of people from other planets. I sensed nothing from Vo-Axo, but I could sense the mind of the young native – and it gave me a problem. Victor had told me that Piurians didn’t have males and females. I didn’t know whether to call this one, ‘he’ or ‘she’.

The native replied, “Greetings. Welcome to Piuri 5. My name is Sia. I am the chief of the tribe.” That settled my problem. Sia sounded more like a girl’s name.

Vo-Axo asked, “How old are you?”

Sia answered, “11.” My wrist unit translated the answer to Earth years. She quickly explained, “I was my parent’s oldest child. When the hamja killed him, I became the chief of the tribe.”

I said, “We were sorry to hear about your parent.”

“It is done,” she said. Determination squashed the sadness that came to her mind.

“Don’t worry, kid,” said Vo-Axo. “I’ll soon get rid of that hamja.”

From his trolley, Vo-Axo took the fourth member of our team, and ordered, “Wake, Carrington.” Carringtons are robots, like flying saucers about a metre across. This one would be very useful for spotting what was ahead of us. Vo-Axo ordered him to send the picture from his front camera to our wrist units.

We soon assembled the boats, or, to be honest, Vo-Axo assembled the boats, with a little help from me. I took the empty trolleys back to Froff 4. Sia told us that the tide would cover the rock around the transporter in about five hours. We expected to be back by that time, but, if the trip took longer, we would have to wait till the tide went out before we could use the transporter.

I activated a beacon, like a black button, and stuck it to the frame of the transporter door. We could set our wrist units to track it, so that we could find our way back to the transporter.

As I went to my boat, Vo-Axo tapped my lifejacket. “What’s that?”

“It’s a lifejacket.”

“You don’t want to bother with that. The water’s calm, and these boats are unsinkable.”

“I feel safer with it. I’m not a good swimmer.”

He shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

With Carrington hovering above us, we got into the boats. Sia pulled herself into mine, and leaned over the front, to look ahead.

I’d brought a control unit, but I still couldn’t decide whether to use it. Finally, I chickened out, and decided to drive the boat myself.

I sat in it, bobbing gently at the rock. I pressed the button on the top of the control column, signalling I was ready to start. Vo-Axo gave me a cheerful thumbs-up. Sia pointed forward into the mist. We were about to set out to hunt the hamja.