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The Ultimate Vehicle

by Brad Andrews

“Professor Vanual to the bridge please.”

I heard the voice through my cabin intercom and looked up towards where I thought it had come from. Three years aboard this ship and I still cannot tell you where the speaker is. You tend to get bored on long flights, but no more: there was only one reason I would be called to the bridge now. We were nearing our destination.

“Earth, Professor.” The Captain said it with some odd inflection between satisfaction and irritation. The Captain usually commanded heavy frigates, not extended-range research vessels such as this.

I supposed he would be happier if it at least carried something offensive rather than a screen of anti-collision defensive weapons, but right now I didn’t care, didn’t care one bit and assumed the grousing Captain would get over it once he was home and practicing war!

“My sincere thanks to you and your crew, Captain. I can’t tell you what it means to the science team to make it here — and,” here I lowered my voice, “at this particular time.”

That did grab the attention of the Captain. “Some sort of tactical spying? Are we going to test something on its population?”

I looked at him and my stalks must have risen in an incredulous way, becasuse he seemed to shrink back and his carapace turned a deep blue.

“Captain, let me say this once more: in no way is this a military operation. Is that understood?” I could tell that he and everyone else on the bridge was surprised at my tone, but I would be a fool if I allowed the military mind to influence what is purely a research mission. If Earth was on equal footing or even superior, I wouldn’t be here. Earth and its vast populations are a curiosity, and I intend for them to stay that way.

“My apologies Professor, if I may ask, then what is so special about the timing of our arrival?” He’d put his command voice back on and his shell had returned to its normal color. Authority figures, humph!

“Simple, really, we are here to observe an inconsistency in technology.” The Captain and some of the bridge crew turned towards me and I could see that I had awakened curiosity in them.

I felt the robes of academia and an explanation coming on. “Earth,” I gestured with my right pincer, “is currently transiting from an Industrial Age to an Informational age, though this new age is heavily reliant on its industrialism.” I did not add that only some 45% of the planet enjoyed such splendors, that much of it was still barely developed. We were not here to study non-technical aspects.

“On the whole, the developed countries, as they call them, are on par with one another, though some are slightly more advanced than others, primarily in their military capacity.” I quickly added to the Captain that they posed absolutely no threat; even their most powerful weapons were only nuclear in nature.

The Captain could not contain himself. “If they are so ‘on par’, as you say, then what inconsistencies do you speak of?” He fell silent again as I gave him a reproachful stare.

I couldn’t blame him though, I was as impatient and intrigued the first time I had heard of them myself! “There are but a few examples, but the most far-reaching and seemingly powerful one is only tested once a year and only throughout the ‘Western’ powers as they are called. A joint exercise, no doubt.”

The Captain nodded “No doubt.”

“From what we can tell it is some sort of delivery system and can be targeted individually. Earlier studies have shown that this system targets and deploys to almost 82% of the population and does so virtually undetected.”

I paused here and I must admit it was for a little bit of drama. “The amazing part of this is that it does it within eight to ten of their hours all on one night.” I could see that the implications of such a technology were not lost, especially to the military men aboard.

Then I threw in the show stopper. “By the way, you might be interested to know that from what we can tell, it involves only one vehicle.” That really floored them, and I could see that doubts were rising. “It is usually tested in a period of two days, and we are here to study it!”

The Captain turned to me once again then to the view screen below and I could tell that he was impressed. “If these humans posses such a technology they are far more formidable then we have been led to believe, Professor, possibly far more dangerous.”

Before he could go on I waved him down. “With all due respect, I do not believe that this is the case, Captain, in view of the nature of the targets and what is delivered.”

I could see him tapping a hind leg in frustration. “Which is?”

I smiled “It is aimed at children, and it delivers toys, just as we give to our children.”

I could see the incredulous look of his face, and then he asked “And just what is this system?”

My shell brightened with excitement. “They call it ‘Santa Claus’.”

Copyright © 2006 by Brad Andrews

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