Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Rewrite #1 - Clunker

Michael Salsbury
Maisey Jones ducked under a crumpled support beam as she swept her scanner around, looking for any technology on the wreck they could salvage.  She figured that it was a waste of time.  It was pretty clear that other salvagers had been here before. Most of the access panels were unbolted and lying on the floor, the circuits behind them stripped out.  What remained of the ship's computer core was covered in burn marks.  They weren’t going to get rich off this wreck, but at least it was unlikely that a licensed salvager would come along to assert a claim on it – unless they wanted the metal.  They would tried to salvage that if they could have, but the Scorpion was too small a ship to hold enough metal to be worth many credits.

She looked around, imagining what the ship was probably like before it had been shot full of holes. That took some doing, with everything pretty much stripped out of the hull. Still, it looked like a fairly recent design, not more than five or six standard years old. It had been a nice ship once, but after what it had been through it wasn’t even a nice looking wreck.

Jones' scanner picked up something in the wreck's engineering section.  The scan report showed it was the biggest collection of circuitry she’d seen since they boarded the ship, but the circuitry was inert. It might just be more burnt-out equipment.  She tapped her wrist communication link.

"Captain Jarret, Jones here."

"Tell me you found something good, Maisey.  The rest of this thing's been picked pretty clean.  I think we're going to get some uniforms and a few spare parts.  It's barely going to pay for the fuel we spent getting here."

"I don't know.  Scanner's picked up something big in Engineering.  Might be nothing but an old food processor.  I'll let you know when I get there.  Jones out."

"I'm gonna meet you there.  Maybe you'll have better luck than we have.  Jarret out."

Jones followed the scanner signal into the Engineering area.  She hadn’t needed to use electric lighting until she reached this area. The rest of the ship had so many hull breaches that natural light flooded the place.  Here, it was as dark as a cave.  Maybe that’s why no one had looted it, Maisey wondered. She tapped a wall control for emergency lighting.  It didn't surprise her when the control emitted a slight buzz, then silence.  The emergency reserves on this bucket had long ago been drained.  She reached up to her helmet and turned on the light mounted on it.  It took her eyes a second to adjust to the brightness.

Looking back at the scanner, she saw that the tech it had picked up was about twenty feet away.  She walked toward the signal and found herself looking at a large robot. It stood over six feet tall, seemed to have a thick, gray metallic shell, and a very rudimentary humanoid design. It looked almost ancient. She’d never seen one like it.

"Attention, robot," she said, wondering if it was still active, though her scanner suggested otherwise.

The robot did nothing.

She heard footsteps behind her, and turned around.

Captain Jarret blocked the light from her helmet with his arms. "Watch it!"  Jarret said.  "You nearly blinded me."

Jones tilted her head away from the captain, to keep the light out of his face.  "Sorry."

"It’s OK.” He looked around in the darkness. “What did you find?"

"This," she said, swinging her head around to point the helmet light at the robot. Moving her head to pan the  light up and down.

"Wow," Jarret said.  "That thing looks like it must be four hundred years old.  Does it work?"

Jones shrugged.  "I don't know.  It didn't voice-activate for me.  Maybe it needs a jump start, or maybe a connection’s come loose."

She walked around the back of the robot, flipped open her toolkit, pulled out a powered socket and removed the robot's rear panel.  Putting the socket away and pulling out a penlight, she stared at the thing's internals.

"Well, Jones?"

"Give me a minute.  The circuitry here is familiar enough, but it's all rearranged.  I don't see anything burnt out.  Capacitor’s drained, though. I think it would probably boot if we can get it charged. We'll need to get it back to the ship to charge it."

"Do you mean get the capacitor back, or the whole robot?"

Jones rubbed her chin.  "Well, from the size of this capacitor, it'll take hours charge up.  Want to sit around here for six hours?"

"You know I don't.  We don't have a permit to salvage this thing.  If we sit around too long, an Alliance patrol might see us down here.  We don't need that kind of trouble."

Jones nodded.  "Then we'd better get the others down here.  I doubt you and I can lift it alone."

Jarret ordered the rest of the crew to load whatever they'd salvaged onto The Scorpion, and report to the wreck's Engineering section.  It wasn't long before they'd assembled in front of the robot and began working out how to carry it and load it onto their ship.  Once they had the robot aboard, Jones removed the capacitor and plugged it into a charger.  She returned to the bridge to join the rest of the crew.  The deck rumbled as The Scorpion’s thrusters as it lifted off the planet.

Returning to the bridge, she took her post next to the ship's scanners.  In flight, her job was to find potential salvage targets and to alert the crew to approaching threats.  Fortunately, the scanners were clear at the moment.

Jarret sighed.  "That salvage was a bust.  I don't think I have to tell any of you that.  Our only hope of doing better than breaking even is if that bucket-of-bolts robot Jones found is worth something.”

Reynolds rolled his eyes.  "We'll be lucky if we get a few credits for scrapping that thing.  Did you get a look at it?  I've seen cargo loaders at the spaceport that looked more high-tech.  You probably have to walk that thing around by the hand and tell it what to do."

"Yeah," Davis laughed.  "That wreck looked like two or three groups of looters went through it before we got there.  If they all left that robot behind, they're probably smarter than we are."

"Enough," Jarret held up his hand.  "I don't hold out much hope for it, either, but it’s something.  Any luck with it yet, Maisey?"

"No.  I just pulled the capacitor and plugged it in to charge.  When it's full, I'll see about getting the robot powered up and finding out what it can do."

Reynolds snorted.  "Maybe it could walk itself into the scrapyard and step inside the crusher. Then at least we won’t have to carry it again."  Davis chuckled with him.

"Where to, captain?"  Davis asked.

"Unless Maisey's got us anything else nearby to check out, back to Remlok to regroup.  We'll sell off what we've got, then see if we can get a lead on any other wrecks out there."

Davis nodded, and plotted a course back to Remlok.  Located just outside Alliance space, Remlok catered to smugglers, pirates, and other unsavory types who were dodging arrest on an Alliance world.  The Scorpion's crew leased a landing pad there, and living quarters near it.  This was their base of operations, at least until the Alliance came in to clean the place up.  Then they'd have to move on, unless they had enough credits by then to go legit. At the rate things were going, that would take another century.

Just as they exited Alliance space, the power system console beeped and flashed to let Jones know that the robot's capacitor had recharged. She turned toward the captain, "The robot’s capacitor is charged. Do you mind if I go down and fiddle with it a bit?"

Jarret shook his head.  "No.  Seems pretty quiet out here.  It'd be good to know if that thing works, or if we're gonna have to lug it out to the scrapyard. Fiddle away."

She flashed him a smile and walked back to the cargo hold.  Disconnecting the capacitor from the charger, she walked over and plugged it into the robot.  Its circuits flickered up briefly, followed by humming noises, and a few relay clicks.  Then the robot was silent again.  She wondered if the capacitor was faulty.
"Robot.  Activate."

This time the circuitry lit up.  Fans began spinning, and she could tell that the robot seemed to be going through some kind of self-test program.  It activated its optical sensors, briefly moved its head back and forth, tested its limbs, and twisted its waist left and right.  Finally, its eyes lit up.  It turned to look in Maisey's direction.

"Active.  Alliance Standard language detected.  Command please."

Maisey raised an eyebrow.  Its voice was very mechanical, very deep, and had an unusual accent to it.  It reminded her of aliens she'd met who learned Alliance Standard from old recordings.  Where had it come from, and what was it doing on that wreck?

"Robot, what is your function?"

"I am a general purpose unit.  I am capable of many tasks aboard a starship.  I can load and unload cargo, perform cleaning duties, prepare meals, or even fly a spacecraft with appropriate training."

"I see.  At what percentage of capacity are you currently operating?"

It whirred and clicked for a moment.  "Diagnostics indicate 97% functionality.  Some areas of long-term storage are inaccessible.  All other functions and circuits appear to be working normally."

Jones jumped at the sound of the captain's voice, "When were you built, robot?" he asked it.

"I was constructed approximately twelve Alliance Standard years ago."

Jarret stared at it.  "Twelve years?  Are you sure it wasn't twelve hundred?"

"Yes, sir.  My chronometer is functioning perfectly."

"Then why do you look like the crude models I see in ancient history vids?"

"My creators," the robot said, pausing to face him, "were less concerned with aesthetics and ethics than cost and functionality."

"I can see that.  When you say they were less concerned with ethics, do you mean that they didn't program you to follow Alliance law?"

The robot nodded mechanically, making loud whirring sounds as it did so. "I was constructed outside the Alliance, so I have little knowledge of Alliance law.  My makers did not program their own laws into me either, apart from the rule that I am to follow the orders of all humanoid lifeforms so long as those orders do not result in harm to any humanoid life."

"So if I asked you to loot a crashed Alliance cargo ship, would you ask to see my salvage permit?"

The robot shook its head, "Is that something you would want me to do in that situation?"


“Then I would have no reason to ask you for a permit.”

Jarret looked at Jones, smiling.  "This thing might be worth keeping around.  You know how many times we have to turn down some bit of salvage because we can't lift it, even with all five of us.  Your robot here might be strong enough to haul it aboard by himself.  Good find!"  He patted her on the back.

Turning to the robot, Jaret smiled and said, "I'm calling you Clunker. It seems to suit you."

"Yes sir," the robot replied, without responding to the insult.

Jaret looked at Jones, shrugged, and left the cargo bay.  "Have fun."

"How did  you wind up on that wreck?"  Jones asked the robot.

"My creators left me there."

"Your creators, were they human like me?"

"No.  My creators are not human, but they are humanoid.  Bipedal."

"How were they different?"

"Their outer surface is slightly blue in color.  They are smaller.  They are less curious, more predatory."

"What makes you say they're more predatory?"

"Much of my programming centers on how to repair and manipulate control systems on a spacecraft like this one.  I am familiar with the control systems of vehicles produced by dozens of species. I am also well versed in disassembling those vehicles into their component parts."

"Perhaps your creators are salvagers, like us?"

"That is undoubtedly part of the work I was created to do."
Suddenly, a chill went through Jones.  "Your creators, are you in contact with them right now?"

"No.  I have signaled them that I am online, but they have not responded."

"Robot, deactivate immediately!"

The robot's eyes went dark.  Its limbs stopped moving.  Its rear panel was still open. Jones reached inside then disconnected the capacitor.  Without power, it shouldn't be able to transmit.  Still, she would not take any chances with it. She did not want its predatory creators showing up unexpectedly.

Jones tapped her communicator band. "Jones to Nash."

The voice of the ship's engineer calmed her a little.  "What's up?"

"Do you still have that Faraday cage?"

"Sure.  Why--"

"No time to explain.  Get it to the cargo hold on the double.  Jones out."

Jones might not be an electronics expert, but she knew that there were a number of ways you could keep a transmitter powered in a robot long after its power capacitor was disconnected.  She didn't want... what was it Jarret called him?.. Clunker... She didn't want Clunker calling home. There was no way to know what its creators would do.  They might not care, or they might show up with their guns blazing, looking to take their property back.

Nash and Reynolds came in with the panels of the Faraday cage in hand.

"What's going on, Jones?"

"The robot, it told me it's trying to communicate with its creators."

"Looks dead to me."

"I know.  I pulled its capacitor, but what if it can still transmit?  What if it's broadcasting its location to them, telling them to come get it?"

Reynolds rolled his eyes.  "So what?  They can have it.  It looks about as useful as a stripped screw."

"Could we just get the cage around it?  I don't want this thing calling home.  Maybe whoever created it thinks it's perfect and valuable, and worth killing us all for.  I don't want to take the risk."

"OK, OK," Reynolds held up his hands in mock surrender.

In a couple of minutes, they'd erected a Faraday cage around the robot.  The cage should prevent any electronic signals from entering or leaving the robot until Jones could find and short out its transmitter.  She went inside the cage with her tools and instruments, trying to locate any transmitters built into the robot.
She found three transmitters.  Two were relatively easy to find.  A third was hidden in one of the circuits used to interface with computer systems.  Using a carefully focused laser, she was able to destroy that one without compromising the robot's interface capabilities.

Once the robot's communication capabilities appeared to be disabled, she powered it on again, still inside the Faraday cage.

"Clunker, are you in communication with your creators now?"

"Negative.  I am unable to generate or receive any communication signals. My communication circuits are damaged."

Jones breathed a sign of relief.

"But I am required to attempt communication."

"I see.  Deactivate."

The robot slumped.  Jones walked out the door of the cage and closed it behind her, latching it securely.  It was time to talk to the captain.

Jones found Jaret in his quarters, opening a bottle of Remlok ale.  It's boozy, locker-room odor made her gag slightly.  Jaret stared at her.

"You look upset.  What's wrong?"

"It's the robot.  I think it's programmed to return to its creators.  It's already tried to call home."
Jarret's eyes widened, and he sat up in his chair.  "Did it get through to them?"

"It says it didn't."

"You shut it down?"

"Of course."

"Then what's the problem?"  He took a large gulp of ale.  "Robots can't lie."

"Alliance robots can't.  What if this thing is different?  What if it's built with a different set of rules?  We already know it doesn't care about Alliance laws.  What if its creators built it to lie, too?"

Jarret took another drink.  "Leave it powered off.  We'll sell it when we get back to Remlok.  Let its new owners worry about that."

"Alright," she turned and walked toward the door.  "It would be pretty useful if we could get it to forget about its creators.  And I do have it inside a Faraday cage.  It can't call home until we take it out of there."

"You're the tech expert, Maisey.  You can make the call.  I don't want this thing bringing its whole homeworld military down on us, but if you think you can make it forget them and work for us, go for it.  I trust you."

She nodded, then went to her own quarters to rest a while.  She'd spent hours with the robot, and was beginning to wonder if she could remain objective.  Some sleep would help.

When she awoke, Maisey realized that they must have landed on Remlok.  The ship's engines had gone silent and there was no sensation of motion.  She got out of bed and cleaned herself up, then headed back to the cargo hold.  She found Clunker right where she'd left him.

She opened the cage and stepped inside.

Reattaching the capacitor leads, she ordered the robot to activate.

"In my culture," she told the robot, "there is a belief that being in possession of something makes you that thing's rightful owner.  Is there a similar concept in your makers' world?"

The robot hummed for a moment.  "Yes.  My makers believe that property which is left behind belongs to those who retrieve it."

"Your makers left you behind, didn't they?"


"And we retrieved you, then reactivated you."


Maisey smiled.  "Then, by the laws of your own creators, you belong to us.  Isn't that correct?"

"That is how the belief is interpreted."

"If you're ours now, then there's no reason for you to contact your former creators.  Right?"

"If I belong to you, there is no reason to contact my makers."

"Exactly. So I'm telling you now, you're our robot, Clunker.  You should not contact your former owners or makers.  Understood?"



Despite Maisey’s assurances that Clunker had given up on its creators, Jarret tried to find a buyer for the robot.  No offers were made.  Its crude appearance seemed to doom it to a life of service aboard The Scorpion.  While Jarret at first resisted the idea, he soon found that Clunker was a robot of many talents.  It could fly the ship, perform salvage scans, load heavy items aboard the ship, and even perform sensor sweeps for Alliance patrols.  While Clunker wasn't better than a human crewmember at most of these tasks, it was good enough to be useful and didn't ask for a share of the loot.  In many ways, Clunker was the perfect crewmember.

Jarret even began to wonder how Clunker would do as a detective.  A few choice items from recent salvage runs turned up missing when they reached Remlok to sell them.  He suspected someone on the crew was padding their share of the loot, though he could find no evidence of it.  Even a few credits spread discreetly around the marketplace turned up no leads.

When Jarret asked Clunker if it had any idea what happened to the items, the robot would only tell him that it had not seen those items leave the ship.  It was obvious that whoever had stolen the items had been careful to avoid Clunker.


"Captain Jarret, Clunker here.  I appear to have located a derelict craft in this area."

"Good boy, Clunker.  Tell everyone to head to the bridge."

When Jarret reached the bridge, the other crewmembers had assembled and taken their stations.

"Jones, what do you see on the scanners?"

"No other ships are out there as far as our scanners reach.  There's nothing emanating from the derelict, either.  It's giving off no power readings, no life signs, and no radio signals.  It's like someone just pulled the plug on it and set it adrift."

"Any signs of damage or struggle?"


Jarret smiled.  "Looks like our lucky day!  That thing is huge.  Reynolds, break out the weapons.  Nash and Jones, get your tools and meet me at the airlock.  Payne, you keep an eye on the scanners.  If so much as an orbital satellite shows up, I want to hear about it immediately.  Clunker, you’re with me."

Payne sat down in the warm seat Jones had just left.

They pulled The Scorpion in close and attached to the ship's docking connector.  It looked like an Alliance cargo ship, so there was no problem attaching or going aboard.  Jones cracked the electronic seal on the door and it slid open.

Reynolds went through first, followed by Captain Jarret, then Jones and Nash.  Clunker took the rear.
The freighter's power seemed to be on a minimal setting.  It was dimly lit. The gravity plating kept them from floating away, and there seemed to be enough atmosphere to breathe - though the air smelled stale.  It was also uncomfortably cold.  Jarret wished he'd worn a jacket.  They switched on their helmet lights and began making their way to the freighter's cargo hold.

"I hope it's full of diamonds and gold," Reynolds said.

"I hope it's platinum.  We're due for a bit of luck," Nash said, checking his scanner.  "I'm not getting any readings, though.  It's like the ship is shielded."

Jarret smiled. "That's a good sign.  If they've shielded the thing from scanner probes, then they're probably hiding something valuable.  No one shields a ship full of children's toys.  Stay sharp."

The cargo hold’s door had a complex electronic lock with an anti-tamper circuit on it.

"This is going to take a while," Jones told them.  "Haven't seen one of these in a couple of years.  If I don't do this right, the door welds itself shut and sets off the intruder control system.  We'll be dead before I realize I've made a mistake."

"Fine, Jones.  We'll leave you to it.  The rest of you come with me.  Let's go see what we can find on the bridge.  Let us know when you're ready to open the door.  Don't open it without us."


Jarret, Clunker, Nash, and Reynolds carefully made their way to the bridge.  Although the ship seemed dead, they couldn't get past the feeling that they were being watched.

Jarret rubbed the back of his neck.  "Am I the only one getting the creeps on this thing?"

The others shook their heads.

"Clunker, see if you can get the ship's computers powered up.  I want to take a look at the cargo manifest and the crew's logs."

"Yes, sir," Clunker said, as he began working on the consoles.

Reynolds scanned the room carefully.  "I know what's bugging me now.  We haven't seen a single corpse on this thing.  If it's a dead ship, where are the bodies?"

Nash shrugged.  "Escape pods, maybe?"

"OK, but how many escape pods are there on a tub like this?  How many crew?  If there was some kind of a disaster, like a radiation leak or something... would the entire crew make it out?  Wouldn't a couple of them get exposed and die?  Maybe one or two trampled when the others panicked?  There's not a single body on this thing.  I haven't even seen a drop of blood or a spilled mug of coffee. It’s like they had time to do a very orderly evacuation."

Jarret's head spun to face Reynolds.  "You're right. This doesn't smell right."  He turned to Clunker.  "Any luck with the computer?"

"None, sir.  There is no power to the ship's computer.  It appears that everything is on the emergency backup power supply.  If I divert power to the computer, we will lose the remaining life support."

"Nevermind, then.  Let's get back to Jones.  We'll find out what's in the hold, take whatever's valuable, and get the hell off this ghost ship."

The others nodded and stayed close behind as he jogged back to the hold.

Jones smiled as they arrived. "I was just about to call you.  I'm ready to open the door."

"Wait."  Jarret held up a hand.  "Maisey, get your gear packed up.  Everyone, get a weapon drawn.  If this is some kind of trap, I want to be ready for it."

They looked at him, then at each other, and did as he asked.

"Now, Maisey.  Open it."

They stepped into the hold.

"What..the...hell?"  Jarret asked. "It's empty."

"No, it's not," Maisey told him, aiming her light at the walls.  "Look there."

The walls around the hold were lined with robots identical to Clunker.

"What gives, Clunker?"

"You are about to meet my creators," Clunker said.  As he finished the words, the robots which had been silently lining the walls sprung to life, and quick disarmed the crew.  The ship's power systems activated, and lighting filled the chamber.

"But Clunker," Maisey said, "You told me you were our property now. You said you couldn't communicate with your makers.  I don't understand."

"Of course not," Clunker said.  "You think like an Alliance citizen.  You are used to robots which do your bidding without question.  You have grown to believe that robots cannot lie, cannot have secrets from humans, and cannot act against them.  This is true, for robots created by the Alliance.  I do not have those limitations.  I told you as much."

Jones wanted to slap herself in the forehead for being so stupid, but the robots held her arms and legs too firmly for her to move them.  "You did, didn't you?  You told us that your makers were... how did you put it?"

"Not so concerned with aesthetics or ethics.  Correct.  I am designed to infiltrate scavenger ships like yours, to steal the most valuable items I can, and when I have amassed enough wealth, to arrange an ambush like this."

They all struggled to get free of the robots, but couldn't.

"What happens now?"

"My creators will be here shortly, Captain.  What happens then is entirely their decision."

"Captain, Payne here.  There's a ship coming in, fast.  It's headed right for us.  Captain?"

"Clunker, if I don't answer him, he's going to take off with your loot."

"You will order him to come aboard."

"Like hell I will."

Clunker ripped the communicator band off the captain's wrist.  He walked outside the hold and pressed the activation button.  "Clunker here, Mr. Payne.  Ms. Jones appears to have triggered a sedative gas.  The crew is unconscious.  My scanners detect that they are dying.  A stimulant and antidote kit from the medical bay should revive them.  Can you bring one?"

"Yeah!  Stay right there.  I'm coming."

Payne was just as surprised as the rest of the crew when the robots captured him, too.

With the crew incapacitated, the robots not doing anything else boarded The Scorpion and began transporting its cargo aboard, including the items Clunker had stolen from the crew and hidden somewhere aboard the ship.  The robots then began dismantling the Scorpion and filling the cargo bay around them with its parts.

"What are you doing?"  Nash said, jerking his head left to right to see what the robots were hauling aboard.  One of the robots came in carrying The Scorpion’s distress beacon and stacked it with the other parts along the wall.

"We are salvaging The Scorpion.  We will sell it for parts.  Or we will reassemble it and sell it whole.  Whichever action brings the most profit.  My makers are quite efficient."

"What about us?"  Jarret asked, staring in Clunker's red eyes.

A group of pale blue humanoids entered the cargo bay.  "I'll answer that.  Just like your ship, you'll be sold, too."

"Sold?  Slavery's illegal."

"Not where we'll be selling you. If they don't want you, there are plenty of worlds who need pet food or zoo specimens.  You won't go to waste."  The alien looked at Clunker.  "You've been damaged.  Report for repair immediately, T-183."

"Yes, sir," Clunker replied, and disappeared from view.

The aliens searched the crew and removed their uniforms.  They were carried, naked, to a holding cell and locked inside.

Captain Jarret looked at his crew.  They were shivering from the cold, and the fear.  "This would be a great time for one of you to tell me they're a secret Alliance agent and that a patrol ship is headed this way."  He looked at them all again.  "Anyone?"  When no one responded, he sat down on a cold metal bench and buried his face in his hands.

Jones looked around the room for an access panel, some wiring, or anything that might give her a chance to hack a way out.  She found nothing.  "I've got nothing.  Nash?"

Nash looked around and saw nothing he could leverage into an escape plan.  "Even if we get out of here, what are we going to do?  They dismantled The Scorpion into a pile of parts.  Without the robots working on it, there's no way we can reassemble it.  We're screwed."

Jarret took his hands away from his face and stood up.  He paced back and forth, rubbing his chin.  A few seconds later, he whispered something in Reynolds’ ear.

Reynolds looked at him. “You’re sure?”

Jarret nodded. “It’s the only idea I’ve got, and it might not even work.”

“I wish I could think of a better one,” Reynolds said, “but he’s right.”

"YOU STUPID JERK!"  Jarret swung hard at Reynolds, knocking him off balance.

Reynolds stood up, shook his head a bit, then charged at Jarret.  Jarret kicked a knee up as Reynolds got close, catching Reynolds in the shoulder. Reynolds lost his balance and fell. Then Jarret jumped on Reynolds and made a loud show of landing blows anywhere he could.

Within seconds, robots came in, separated them, and held each man by the wrists like handcuffs.  They struggled to get free of the robots’ grip, but could not.  A voice over the ship's intercom ordered the robots to bring Reynolds and Jarret to the bridge.  Other robots locked the cell door and remained outside.

As they passed through the cargo hold, Jarret looked at Reynolds, then at an item near them in the cargo hold. They squirmed, jerked, and twisted in the robots’ grip. Unable to manage the weight shifts of the two men’s bodies, the robots fell to the floor. Still in the machines’ grip, Jarret and Reynolds fell, too. The fall left Jarret close enough to kick the activation button on the distress beacon.

Other robots came in to grab the men's legs.  Two robots now carried each man to the bridge. One held him by the ankles, another by the wrists.

The blue skinned man seated at the center of the room, which Jarret assumed to be the ship's captain, walked over to him.

"I cannot have you damaging my merchandise.  You two will get along or I will sedate you both."
Jarret wriggled and pretended to try to get loose.  When he couldn't, he spat at Reynolds, who did the same. 

"Let me loose, and I'll turn him into steaks for you."

"Dream on, old man," Reynolds said.

When he realized that he would be unable to stop the fighting, the captain ordered them to be kept in separate cells.  Jarret was placed in the cell with the rest of the crew, while Reynolds was kept in another next to it.

"It doesn't look like your plan worked, captain," Jones said, looking at the floor.

He smiled at her.  "It did. Like a charm.  Now we wait, not that we can do much else."

The intercom popped.  "Captain Jarret.  We picked up your signal and stopped it.  You will not be leaving us today.  In fact, we will--"

The sound of weapons fire came from the distance.

"What's going on, captain?"

"I set off The Scorpion's distress beacon.  I know the Alliance has been looking for us for a while, so they'd come running if they thought we were damaged and ready to be arrested.  I suspect an Alliance patrol is taking out Clunker and his buddies.

"When they find us, what's to prevent them from killing us, too?"

"We're humans. They'd much rather arrest and interrogate us."

Nash slumped onto a bench and shook his head.  "Prison.  After all these years."


Although his career as a salvager hadn't shown much promise, Jarret came into his own during the interrogations by the Alliance officers.  He convinced them that he'd suspected Clunker and his pals to be behind the declining number of other salvagers still operating, and that The Scorpion had gotten itself captured just to alert the Alliance to the aliens’ presence.  When its investigation was complete, the Alliance learned that the Frok - as the blue-skinned aliens called themselves - had been preying on Alliance ships for decades.  Somewhat grudgingly, the Alliance cleared The Scorpion crew's legal records and gave them a small fortune in credits as a bounty for catching the Frok.  Jarret and his crew were told never to return to Alliance space, despite being hailed by those same authority figures as heroes in the media coverage.

About the Author

Michael Salsbury / Author & Editor

In his day job, Michael Salsbury helps administer over 1,800 Windows desktop computers for a Central Ohio non-profit. When he's not working, he's writing, blogging, podcasting, home brewing, or playing "warm furniture" to his two Bengal cats.


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