Contact: Book 1 of the Zaftan Troubles Sample Scene
To introduce you to my new satiric scifi series, the Zaftan Troubles, I’ll put up a sample scene (or two) from each of the seven books as they become available.
Webley, the President of Gundarland, is in his office when an alien appears. The zaftans are interested in mining minerals and the alien wants to negotiate permission from Webley.
Webley sat in his office getting his afternoon briefing on Gundarland and the rest of the world. Across the desk, his Chief-of-Staff, Rodrigs, presented a review of events that he gleaned from newspapers, telegrams and reports from other bureaucrats. Rodrigs, wearing a mustard-colored bow tie, stopped in mid-sentence to listen to screams of terror coming from the secretaries’ area outside the presidential office. The clomping of several pairs of running feet followed the screams.
“I’ll find out what’s going on.” Rodrigs stood and placed his folder of reports on his chair.
“Not yet. It’s almost time for my nap and I don’t want anything to disturb it. You can tell me after I wake up.” Webley yawned, stretched and loosened his orange cummerbund.
Rodrigs sat down and started to read from another report when the office door crashed open and a nightmare creature overflowed the door frame.
Both men gaped at the intruder with its grayish-black skin covered with green, oozing slime. It stood on eight tentacles. Eyestalks bounced around as they inventoried the room. A silver medallion hung from the creature’s neck and a gold metallic belt covered with strange squiggles encircled the middle of its torso. It held a small, black, metallic device in one of its tentacles. The creature’s eyestalks focused on Webley. After a few seconds, it slithered forward and approached the desk. Webley pushed his chair backward until stopped by the wall behind his desk. He had trouble breathing and his gut felt as if it was trying to digest a large rock. A violent urge to vomit seized him. The stench from the squid-like figure reminded him of dead fish baked in the hot sun for a few days.
Rodrigs stared pop-eyed at the apparition. He recovered and pushed his chair away from the desk. He gagged and retched.
“Whoa!” the creature said to Webley. “You are an ugly sucker.”
Webley’s fear morphed into anger. “This monster calls me ugly?” He glared at the stranger while struggling to control his bile.
A sudden aroma of coffee filled his nostrils and delighted his olfactory sense. He glanced at Rodrigs and saw that he too looked more at ease. Obviously, the elf had cast wards to protect them against the stench.
“My name is Shtap. This belt identifies me as the negotiator for the brilliant and beautiful Captain Yunta. Instead of destroying the planet or enslaving you pathetic creatures, she offers to trade with you. You may grovel at my tentacles to show your respect and gratitude.” Squeaks came from the creature’s beak but the words came from the medallion.
“Rodrigs! What is the point of having an appointment calendar if no one follows it. My calendar clearly states that it is now nap time. Why is this . . . this thing in my office?”
“Maybe he doesn’t think he needs an appointment.”
“You’re a wizard. Cast a spell and get it out of here.”
Rodrigs thought that was a very bad idea. It would require a lot of magical power to move a creature that big. The kilo-necromans required to cast such a spell would be more than he had ever used at one time. The recoil from launching such an amount of power would be dangerous.
“Come on. Do your stuff.”
While the creature stared at Webley, Rodrigs gathered ten kilo-necromans of his magical resources, aimed them at the creature and wove his hands in a removal spell. The recoil almost knocked him backwards out of his chair. An opaque cloud of magical particles flew towards the intruder. It rebounded off Shtap, engulfed a potted plant and changed it into a pink dragon puppy. “Uh-oh,” Rodrigs mumbled aloud. The appearance of the dragon pup puzzled him. How had that happened? Shtap didn’t notice the spell. He must have a protective ward, but the ward wouldn’t account for the transformation of the plant into a dragon. Producing a dragon required much more power than the ten kilo-necromans he had used. Somehow the intruder’s ward must have amplified the power of the spell. Was that even possible? He had never heard of such an occurrence.
The pup snorted a puff of steam through one nostril and charged Shtap. It skidded to a halt a few feet away, sniffed and yelped in consternation. It ran two circuits of the office, yapping the entire time. At the end of the second lap, it made a flying leap at Rodrigs’ ankle and clamped down with its needle-sharp puppy teeth.
Shtap’s eye stalks rotated to follow the action.
Rodrigs, howling in pain, jumped up and hopped on one foot with the puppy clinging to his ankle and flapping its tiny wings to maintain its toothy grip. He pried the puppy’s teeth off his ankle and dropped it outside the office until he could think of something to do with it. He walked back to his seat, noticing that Shtap towered over his own six foot height. “Where are you from?”
“We don’t know where that is,” Rodrigs said. “We never heard of it.”
“Never? Your civilization is more ignorant than we thought. You are fortunate we are here. We come from far away. The other side of the galaxy.”
“Galaxy?” Rodrigs frowned at the implications of that statement. “You mean like one of the stars?”
“Well, that’s preposterous,” Webley said. “How could they travel from a star?”
“We came on a ship.”
“You have a ship out in the harbor?” Webley raised an eyebrow. “I think I would have heard about that.”
“You mentioned trade?” Rodrigs changed subjects to get Webley off the ship idea. Letting the creature get a glimpse of Webley’s thought processes wasn’t a good way to start a negotiation.
“We want to explore the land and mine minerals if we find them.”
“You mean like gold and silver?” Rodrigs asked.
“No. We seek minerals your backward civilization will not need for a long time and may never need. Like monazite and gadolinite.”
“I never heard of them,” Webley said. “Have you, Rodrigs?”
“No, I haven’t. Why here? Why not in a different part of our world?”
“This land has the most diverse terrain types giving us the best chance of success.”
“What do we get in return?” Rodrigs asked.
Shtap slithered to the closest window.
Rodrigs noticed the rug smoldered where he had been standing.
Shtap pointed a tentacle at the dirt-colored smog billowing from a nearby factory. “We will teach you how to clean up your pollution. Also how to keep your water clean.”
“How long will you stay?” Webley asked.
“Until our ship is filled. Meanwhile, we will study your pollution problem and teach you what to do before we leave.”
“How many of you will do the exploring?” Rodrigs asked.
“We use robotic explorers.”
“What are robotics?” Rodrigs asked.
“Machines, to your backward civilization.”
“How many?” Rodrigs wondered how folks would react to seeing machines roaming the land.
“Ten should be enough.”
“Then there will be ten machines and ten others like you to operate them?”
“Just the machines. There is no need to send down operators.”
Rodrigs frowned. How could machines work without someone controlling it? Was this magic or technology? He wished he knew. He didn’t like getting in situations where he didn’t understand what was going on. He needed more information. “What about private property?” Rodrigs asked. “Will these machines respect property rights?”
“What are . . . property rights?”
“Homes, farms, gardens, orchards. Land that individual folks own.”
Shtap paused momentarily, then replied, “Ah, land. We will respect property rights.”
“Where will you start?” Rodrigs sensed that Shtap replied to questions in a way that concealed much information. The entire situation made him most uneasy. There were far too many unanswered questions, not to mention the unknown questions.
“We will analyze your land mass to identify the most promising area to find minerals. We will start there. If we find what we need, we will not have to explore further.”
Webley cleared his throat. “We will think about your offer.”
Rodrigs knew the prospect of cleaning up pollution appealed to Webley. It was a major issue with the voters. If Webley received credit for solving the problem, it would help his reelection campaign.
Shtap nodded. At least Rodrigs thought he nodded. It was hard to tell since he didn’t really have a head, just eye stalks on the top part of the torso. “I will return tomorrow for your answer. I will require a large-scale map of your country.” He pointed a tentacle to the wall map. “Like that one.” He tapped the device held by a tentacle.
“Make sure you don’t show up at nap time when you come back.” Webley drummed his fingers on his desk top.
To their amazement, Shtap dissolved in a column of golden air.
Rodrigs shook his head in wonderment at the awesome display of power. “We need to have a cabinet meeting, sir,” he said.
Webley stroked his chin. “I suppose we’ll have to. Set it up for after my nap. And don’t include everyone. Just Treasury, Defense and Interior. We don’t need the rest of the buffoons.”