The Stupid Mistake.   by Giles D Hobbs

Tridi had been traveling over water for six ‘lesser ticks’, the sun had traversed the sky twenty times and as usual she was keeping herself occupied by the dedicated discipline of intense moaning, griping and berating of her superiors. From above, her light footsteps would be seen to break the Ocean waters surface but that is all. No one within light years would be capable of seeing anything more than that. She was like an invisible bird running across the shallow waves yet never managing to take off.

The placement of the third signi-pod on this last leg of the Mid-Atlantic part of her commission would form the shape of an elongated triangle marked out in 3 points. Her next location, which she would reach in another quarter of this earth’s day formed the most acute angle of that triangle. This was aligned to point towards the top corner of the huge land-mass to the West which ran almost from pole to pole, itself comprised of a number of ‘continents’ and countless smaller countries. Her carry pack held another 9 signi-pods which, once deployed across the NW corner of that land-mass and the small island off its coast would mean she could move on to her next job, one step closer to a well earned rest.

She ran and moaned. Taking a signi-pod from her pack she looked at its torpedo shape, weighing it in her hand. It sat in her palm from her wrist to close to her fingertips, a shining silver cylinder, which periodically sent a shimmering wave of rainbow colours around its curved blemish less surface. This swirl of colour would then converge at the truncated cone that formed its top where an intensely high-pitched popping noise would accompany a brief ball of tightly webbed blue lightning. The surface was otherwise featureless although it hid a variety of subtle equipment, mainly used in the deployment of the pod itself.

She must be the last person in her field using this totally obsolete technology. Her despondent griping soared to new peaks. It was only because she was listed as grade 4 and was now the only person she knew who was still ranked so low, busted down from grade two and a life of respect by one stupid mistake. It was only because of that mistake that she was burdened with this junk. She knew for a fact that from grade 3 upwards, workers in her field were now being issued with equipment that could be operated from orbit. They would do their job in nearly a tenth of the time. How was she meant to make her mark and get upgraded if she was forced to use the surplus of this obsolete stock.

Fighting the rebellious urge to hurl it into the sea undeployed, she rammed it back into her pack. Grade 4 wasn’t the lowest they could bust her, she could be made grade(unemployed) and that would be it for her, no vehicle, no home, and she could write off the vacation she had planned with Freek when she’d finished her remaining two commissions. Her head turned backwards and she examined the small contrail of disturbance she was leaving on the waters surface. She saw the now familiar sight of a shoal of fish pecking at the water she had passed over. It was strange, she would have to look into that when she returned to base. She knew little about the inhabitants of this world. She ran and moaned. It wouldn’t surprise her if she was at considerable risk from these little aquatic monsters and that her superiors just forgot to tell her. She damned them over and over as she ran on.

The hours passed and the sun nearly completed the second half of its path across the sky. Finally, checking her location monitor she reached her destination. There were no fish here so she didn’t need to use her sonic repulsor. Again she removed the pod from her pack. With a small delicate movement of her finger over the shining surface the top third hinged back revealing a central reservoir. Leaning over she filled the hollow with water, pulled a small metal rod from her belt and placed it in the liquid. Swirling it round while it buzzed and vibrated a little she then removed it and placed the end, which had grown a white coating of salt crystals, into her mouth. Sucking on this and feeling briefly content she lifted the cylinder closer to her face and placed her finger into the desalinated water it now contained. In a swirling cloud the water changed from clear to deep burgundy, slightly lit from below. She slammed the lid closed, knelt on the water and gripped the pod top and bottom. With a gentle twist she activated the deployment mechanism and let the pod go. It smoothly slid into the water and disappeared out of sight. And then she ran.

Working on land was a little more challenging. The ratio of populated land to countryside meant that most deployment sites were in low population areas, just like a large proportion were under water but two of them fell slap bang in the middle of urban centres. The first of those had been in a city called Barcelona. In that instance she had been able to sneak into an unused basement to deploy the pod at exactly the right spot. Slipping back out into the bustling city she had then run through one of the small side streets, keeping to quiet places, cautious despite her invisibility, when she saw one of the local creatures slumped against a wall. It seemed to be hurt and held a clear glass container of brown liquid in one hand. She stopped to watch but none of its species mates that passed seemed to be lending a hand, choosing to step over the recumbent body or veering to avoid it entirely. The stricken creature’s cloth coverings had grown shabby and its face was covering in a wild growth of hair. Still, all that hair didn’t manage to hide the captivating little smile that all these creatures had. She moved closer. She also thought they had such cute noses. She had taken a large collection of images, close-ups of noses from all over the globe. Freek would love them. This ones nose was particularly fantastic. It was bigger than most and a little knobbly. It also had a delightful fine tracery of red veins that ran all over its surface. She stored a picture file from three or four angles.

An urge to help this poor animal held her from running onwards. It wasn’t unknown for ill or dying creatures to be taken back to a refuge, kept alive, given nourishment but it was not allowed for Grade 4 workers like her. There was still something she might do to help though, if the damage to this creature was not all physical. She’d get in huge trouble if she caused too great a disturbance but she couldn’t leave such a cute, sad specimen like this one to suffer. She’d also get the opportunity to do something she had so far denied herself. She reached forward and gave that great nose a gentle affectionate tweak. She giggled, she’d waited a long time to do that. She did it again. With a splutter that covered her wrist with sweet smelling spittle the creature awoke. “Mwahhh” it roared. She understood nothing of the language but it looked a little upset. Quickly checking that the street was quiet she made herself appear with a shimmer. The mans eyes and mouth grew wide as he saw her materialise. “Aaaargh”

With one hand she swiftly took his, holding it gently at first, he immediately seemed to relax. Positioning her second hand, seven fingers splayed in front of her face she peered between them and stared intently into its face. Her eyes flashed. With the gentlest of pressure she lifted the pathetic creature to its feet causing it to look down as if surprised at its own strength. It then gazed lovingly at her face. “Bella” it said, seemingly captivated. She placed her splayed hand on his forehead and his eyes closed, head pushed back. Her first hand let go and reached over her head, delving deep into the recesses of her tool-pack. Removing her second hand from its forehead the creatures eyes, now crystal clear, opened and he stood, face more controlled and posture firm and erect. He smiled again. She then placed a tightly packed roll of paper in his palm and as he looked down his face beamed. She turned and again began to run, northwest, disappearing with each rapid step. As she had hoped most of his affliction was psychological. He would thrive now. She hoped that the figure of currency she had placed in his hand was appropriate for his needs. She hadn’t researched the economics of the world and her damn superiors had given her no useful knowledge. As she descended back into hateful thoughts she figured that one hundred thousand of Earth’s sterling currency would at least be enough to buy him some new cloth, some nutrition and get him back on his feet.

Now, another 15 cycles of the Sun later she was running towards another town. This one was situated on the small island to the north and was called Bristol. Watching her location sensor she guided herself into the bustling centre, dodged the smoky, four wheeled vehicles and pedestrians and ran into a building, slipping in behind someone who had just entered. Some of the people inside sat behind glass screens and seemed to be making brief trades with visitors that involved currency like the stuff she had given to her stricken pet at her previous location. It was a local form of money-exchange, her species called them banks. Looking at her wrist she cursed. This building didn’t have a basement and the point at which the pod needed to be deployment was actually within the space occupied by the thick wall behind where the people sat in their glass room. ‘Oh well’ she thought, approached a locked door at the end of the glass room, and aiming a careful kick she flung the door from its splintering frame. Those behind the door screamed and huddled back, but obviously seeing no-one they stared in dumb awe at the place the door had been. Moving past them, with their attention fixed on the damage she had done she opened another door at the back unobserved and slipped inside.