It was one hell of a mess. Like an explosion on a circus train. Chunks of brightly-colored animals (well, he’d assumed they were animals) everywhere. Mickey didn’t envy the Recovery team, not one bit. Good thing they were in Queensland, and not smack dab in the middle of Tokyo or Los Angeles. As it stood, they had sent the message to London to get the Weevil Warriors out here ASAP, but it would be another 12 hours before the sub-orbital insertion jet would slingshot around the planet and touch down. And probably another two hours after that until they recovered enough to be of any use rounding up the animals. In the meantime, they had the Australian Army assembling an auxiliary force, and also a small team from the Australia Zoo on the way up.
Jake was picking through the debris, poking corpses with a stick. In case anything was trapped under them, he’d said. Riiiight. He’d probably been the kind of kid who melted GI Joes in the microwave. Rose was talking with the owner of the craft, who had made it out in an escape pod and landed half a mile from where the ship now stood, partially buried in the rocky ground.
Torchwood had spotted it while it was still in a geosynchronous orbit over Brazil. It must have nicked an asteroid just right, because it dropped like a stone then. Good thing the pilot had some sense and enough command of the controls to land in a sparsely populated area. The Judoon had been notified, but were under strict orders from the Shadow Proclamation not to interfere unless any Earthbound visitor proved a threat beyond the Earth’s defense capabilities.
Mickey meandered around the site. The exposed areas of the ship had been sealed with a reactive plastic that was still in development at Torchwood. Kind of like cling wrap that stretched itself tight, and only unsealed itself when zapped with a stun gun set to just the right frequency. At a manufacturing cost of two-hundred and forty quid per square meter, it wasn’t ready to hit the mass market. Plus, it was reusable nearly infinitely, so it wasn’t an item people would have to continue purchasing. Mickey Smith had learned a couple things about the global market along the way.
These days, it wasn’t about fighting aliens and saving the world so much as balancing the team’s budget and being a glorified bouncer to the exclusive party planet that was Earth. He suspected that the planet had made it into a guidebook somewhere for students hitchhiking across the galaxy, with an entry reading “Cheap food, lots of local color, hospitable natives.” Seemed like they got more than their share of vagabonds. At least the Judoon presence weeded out most of the petty criminals and would-be invaders.
The Bug chirped in his ear. “Brother Heavy, go ahead,” he answered.
“We’re making our way to the site now. Has it been secured?”
“Sort-of. Looks like the London Zoo exploded over here. Did you find out what this guy was carrying?”
“Exotic species trader from a planet called Ockora. He was able to access his cargo roster from the escape pod. We’re going to have to start matching up the pieces to the animals. Any word on our backup yet?”
“ETA 10:35 for the Army, noon for the Zoo team, and after 21:00 for the Weevil Warriors and recovery.”
“We’ll be there in ten. Start cordoning off sections for identification.”
“Right.” Rose didn’t say anything else. All business in the field, that one. “Oi! Twinkle toes! Get some rope from the lorry!” Jake looked up and waved a piece of something that looked like a giant bat wing on the end of his stick.
They’d been lucky to get clearance for the truck. They had to use the long-range teleports. The energy spent moving three people and a fully outfitted modular support station cost the planet three square miles of rainforest and two species extinctions with each jump. At least using the short-range models only killed one penguin per jump. Leave it to one of the weirdos down in Programming to take the time to figure that out. Probably did it on their lunch break one day because they were bored.
Rose arrived fifteen minutes later with a humanoid (except for the tail) creature tied precariously to the back of the ATV. It had some kind of life support apparatus strapped to its sides. By far one of the ugliest aliens he’d met to date. It looked like old pictures he had seen of the Mermaid of Fiji, all grown up and wearing the fenders off a moped around its torso. If mermaids had looked like that, he doubted sailors would have gotten tattoos of them, let alone been lured into the sea for an extra-vehicular romp. Then again, they did hump manatees back then, so maybe they would go for this. Beside the point though. He motioned to Jake, who was just emerging from the back of the truck with a roll of bin liners. Jake stared for a minute, and popped back in the truck. He returned with a garden wagon and rolled it down the ramp. Well, better than nothing, Mickey supposed.
He helped Rose lift the creature into the wagon. They balled up two jackets and an emergency blanket to keep it upright. The creature sort-of sang at Rose. She sang something back. Never failed to amaze him how fast she could pick up a language. After half an hour of listening to an alien speak, she could converse with them. Not fluently, but enough to make out the difference between “we come in peace” and “kiss your asses goodbye.” He could use his reader, which would give him a rough translation, provided the software knew the language or had enough time to figure out the structure of it. It was easier to just let Rose translate, for right now. Having settled the creature, Mickey struggled to pull the wagon closer to the crash site as Rose kept it from toppling out sideways. She explained the situation as the inched along.
The creature was a male; two hundred and fourteen years old, which was young by his species’ standards, relatively mid-twenties to humans. He traded in exotic species and had stopped by Earth to see if he could persuade someone to part with a few animals to add to his collection, in exchange for technology or rare metals. Mickey doubted the intention of trade, probably more like beam up a few cows and scram. That point was moot though, seeing as the guy had a pile of metal and animal guts for a ship.
Mickey had received the species data from Torchwood, at least for the guy in the wagon. He filled Rose in on some of the particulars. Without knowing what was on board, he hadn’t been able to look up anything else. As soon as the Army arrived, he would figure out how to uplink the escape pod’s computer to his, back in the truck. Rose had found out the creature had an unpronounceable name, so they decided to call him Bob. They called everything with unpronounceable names Bob, even females. If there were more than one, they usually got a secondary designation based on some easily observable physical characteristic, like Girl-Bob, Fat-Bob, or Tall-Bob.
Apparently, the part of the ship that had taken the most damage had been the holding area for some of the air-breathing creatures. The Ockorans were an aquatic species. After a preliminary scan, he deemed it safe enough for Bob to return to the part of his ship that housed his living quarters, and according to him, a life-support suit that would allow him to be mobile on land. Seeing as they didn’t know how long the emergency life-support system he was wearing would last, they hauled him into the gaping hole in the fuselage to the nearest airlock. Twenty minutes went by until Bob remerged from the airlock in a huge metal suit. It looked sort of like a beach ball on stilts. Bob waved from the bubble on top and Rose waved back, singing something to him. A speaker crackled to life and Bob began singing and gesturing with the robotic arms.
With Rose translating, Mickey and Jake picked up the identifiable chunks of animals and placed them in separate bags for cataloging. Rose kept a running tally of the animals accounted for, and cross-referenced with the ship’s data on the animals still contained inside. An hour into the process, the Army convoy arrived. Soon enough, the soldiers were sectioned off and each began cleaning up the recognizable bits of whatever creature had been identified. The Zoo team arrived shortly after and was briefed on the species confirmed missing. Most notably, a thirteen-foot tall amphibious frog-like thing with three eyes and green spots. It could cover forty feet in one leap. Uninjured, it could be miles away by now. The only thing to slow it down, barring injury, was the fact that it was gravid. And if it was anything like a pregnant Earth animal, it would be mean. The helicopter pilot would fly outward in a spiral, looking for it (and anything else unusual) and keep in contact via radio. The other three team members would be allowed to use an Army Jeep (with a soldier at the wheel) and would begin searching the ground.
Mickey returned to the truck and set up parameters for sweeping scans of the surrounding area. He hacked the nearest geosynchronous satellites to provide a wider area of aerial data. He informed the UN and Torchwood of their progress. He began gathering species information on all the animals still missing. Officially, there were thirteen unaccounted for, but enough piles of hamburger laying around to indicate only three or four animals had gone missing. Small ones.
The helicopter pilot had spotted the frog just over two miles away, sitting in a valley, presumably trying to stay out of the direct sun. Jake and Rose commandeered one of the larger Army trucks and set off to the coordinates specified by the pilot. Mickey returned to the vicinity of the ship to oversee operations. The Zoo team had returned with something resembling an armadillo wearing a turtle shell, but with six legs and horns and about the size of a dog while Mickey had been inside the truck.
Steve, the head of the team and director of Zoo patted it affectionately on the head and said “He’s a lovely boy, isn’t he? Aren’t you mate?” The creature, either a Torrillian Swamp Slider or an Astirian Podge (he wasn’t sure which, even though he had just read the descriptions), shook its head and made kind of a groaning noise. It pawed the ground and swung its head around, eyes rolling, as Mickey drew nearer. “Easy, mate, easy.” Steve crouched down, ready to get the animal in a headlock to subdue it if need be. Mickey backed away and it settled, making an uneasy lowing sound like a tiny cow. Animals never liked him anyway.
Mickey returned to the mobile command center and updated the roster. The animal in the pen was a False Magma Beast from Androzani Major. Similar in appearance to a proper Magma Beast from Androzani Minor, but smaller and not as vicious. Burrow- and cave-dwellers, a nocturnal species that primarily scavenged corpses or less frequently hunted smaller mammals and snakes.
Steve’s crew, with the help of a few soldiers, finished construction a make-shift pen for the creature. They led him in and returned to hunting the other escapees. Mickey checked his scans. He radioed to the Zoo team that there was something tunneling away from the crash site, albeit very slowly. He gave them the coordinates of a hole he assumed to be the tunnel entrance and kept them updated as to whatever-it-was’s progress. He checked over the missing creature list, scanning for anything that burrowed. Nothing was showing on the roster. Possible they missed something somewhere.
He was about to double check the figures, when he heard a little meeping sound from the vicinity of his feet. He bent down and looked under the stainless steel table. In the corner, tangled in the wires and cables running from the various monitoring devices, was a dark spot that moved. Mickey slowly removed his torch from where it was holstered at his waist. He shined the beam on the spot. It looked like a parrot and a gerbil had gotten pissed and produced that weird little thing. He reached back to untangle it. As soon as his hand got close enough, it bit him. Hard. “Bastard!” He pulled his hand back, waving his fingers. He inspected them. The skin wasn’t broken, thankfully. He looked around for something to throw over the animal, like a towel or a shirt or something. Finding nothing, he slipped his own t-shirt over his head and laid it over the animal. It struggled as he picked it up, but settled when he wrapped the shirt tighter around it, effectively binding its limbs. He scanned the list and found that it was a Pflot from Pyrilli. There had been two onboard, but one had been found squashed under a piece of bulkhead. According to the descriptions on the roster, the green one had been the male, and the blue one was the female.
He returned outside just in time to meet the Jeep the Zoo team was using. Inside was a smallish buggy-looking humanoid, no more than a meter tall, with a squat body dominated by a huge head. It had a mouth like a piranha and creepy fish eyes, with huge grasshopper antennae on its head. It wore only a dirty and tattered loincloth. If Mickey didn’t know any better, he would think he was looking at a lost child, just by the posture and fear in the animal’s eyes. He wasn’t so sure it was an animal, per se. He hadn’t seen anything on the roster with a description matching the creature. A slave, maybe? He approached Steve. The creature at his side didn’t shy away, just blinked and tracked him with its eyes. “Does it speak? Did it try to communicate in any way?” Mickey asked Steve.
“Little fella hasn’t made a sound. Has a nasty bite though- bit right through a branch the size of my arm back there!”
“Shouldn’t you have it, uh, restrained or sum’in?”
“Nah, he’s alright now, aren’t fella?” He smoothed his hand over the creature’s head. It didn’t react, just stood there. If something moved into it’s line of sight, it would follow whatever the object was with its eyes, but not move its head or make an indication that it was actually processing more than movement.
“Right. Get it in a pen, just in case, yeah?” Steve nodded and led it to one of the empty holding pens.
Mickey had forgotten about the wadded up t-shirt in his hands containing the Pflot. He jogged over to Steve and handed it to him. “Put this in a cage or sum’in, will you? Found it in the truck. Cheers, mate.” He returned to the main crash site and checked in with the commanding officer. Seven more species had been identified, bringing the number of unaccounted for down to two.
He went back in to check the data from the last scan. He had set the system up to cycle through radiation, infrared, radar, and relative movement sweeps in three-minute intervals. Nothing. He pulled half the soldiers on cleanup detail and began a line sweep. They were looking for a hairy, lizard-like creature about two feet long, and a kind of bird with four wings (clipped for captivity, thankfully), more like a terrestrial insect, about the size of rabbit.
A truck approached in the distance. He borrowed one of the soldier’s binoculars. It was Rose and Jake, with pieces of yellow and green spotted frog heaped into the truck bed. Rose was out of the truck before it came to a complete stop. She was covered from head to toe in a mixture of what looked like sandy mud and frog entrails. “Three species found. The frog, a big bee, and a weasel. Careful with the remains of the frog. They explode.” Mickey noticed the back window and sides were covered in goo. Wonderful.
That was it then, all species on the roster had been accounted for. That just left the grasshopper-piranha person. He motioned for Jake and Rose to follow him into the truck. Once inside and sure no one could hear them, Mickey explained the discrepancy. It was still four hours until the recovery team would arrive. Until then, he couldn’t access any more of the ship’s data than what he had been given without risking a compromise to said data. Many extra-planetary cultures had data-erasure programs in place to keep their technology secret. He couldn’t ask Bob about it either, in case he was smuggling the creature, or if it was a slave. They decided amongst themselves to notify the Judoon of their suspicions, and see if they had a rap sheet on Bob.
Talking to the Judoon was like talking to a rhino. Not only because they looked like rhinos, but because they displayed no emotions and had an air of barely restrained force. They were terse in their responses to the point of rudeness. He let Rose make the call. She didn’t seem to mind them as much.
She talked with them for a moment while she transmitted the data. “Micks, we need a picture.” She tossed the digital camera sitting at the work station to him. By the tone of her voice, this was important. He sprinted to the holding pen, snapped three photos, and sprinted back. Rose clicked the camera in to place on the dock and transmitted the photos.
The Judoon spoke something in his native tongue, then gave concise orders in English. “Do not allow the Ockoran to re-enter his craft. Detain until Judoon arrival, approximately four minutes Earth time.” The transmission was cut.
“Ohhkay…” Jake said from Rose’s right side.
“Rose, what did he say before he started speaking English?” Mickey asked
“Something about a bounty. That’s all I could pick out.”
Great. So they had an intergalactic incident on their hands. The team left the truck and split. Jake gave specific instructions to the Zoo team to try to keep the animals calm and gave them a warning about the Judoon’s lack of manners. Mickey went to the commanding officer and gave him instructions to have the soldiers to surround the Ockoran. Rose had the task of distracting Bob while the soldiers moved into place. The operation went smoothly, and as soon as the Judoon teleported in, Rose beat a hasty retreat to relative safety behind the soldiers. Defender of the Earth or not, If you got in the way of the Judoon, you were fair game.
The group of five Judoon had teleported directly in front of Bob, inside the circle. They were in a V formation. The leader stepped forward and gave a very short speech in his native tongue and proceed to level his weapon at Bob in the beach ball. A red beam made a neat hole in the protective bubble of the suit, the fluid it contained spilling out. Bob was a swirl of dust in that fluid. The Judoon leader turned to Rose. “Target has been neutralized. All material left behind is now property of Sol Three under the Shadow Proclamation.” They teleported away.
“Shit,” was all Mickey could say. He turned to Rose. “What did he say before he blasted Bob?”
“Something like ‘Charge: violation Convention 13 subsection nine apple point four. Plea: guilty. Sentence: execution.’ We’ll have to look that up later. Right now though, we’ve got to get the rest of the living animals out of there and try to get them to some kind of holding facility.” Rose surveyed the scene for a moment. “I’ll go talk to the Army. Jake can talk to the Zoo and see how many species they can accommodate until we can transport them. Mickey, I need you to talk to Torchwood and get us the West Country ready for an influx of animals. Send them all the species information you can find. See where the nearest cryogenic and deep freeze facilities are. We’re going to need an insulated cargo container to get all those pieces back. I don’t know what we’ll do with the frog- It might have to go by boat. It seemed like it only started exploding once it was in the heat of the sun. See if you can find anything out about that. And let’s see if we can’t get someone to get us some food out here. I’m not eating another MRE if I can help it. Right,” she nodded to herself, squaring her shoulders.
The team broke, off to their respective duties. Mickey sat in front of the monitoring station, transmitting data and coordinating the Torchwood reinforcements. He requested all the official data on Bob’s crime from the Judoon. He searched Convention 13. Subsection nine dealt with slave trafficking and the treatment of sentient species as personal property. So he had been right. He wondered how many of the other animals were actually sentient species or had trade restrictions imposed on them. He set up a program to cross-reference the species roster with all known galactic laws. It would take a few hours to compile.
Meep. Meep meep meep. It was coming from under the table again, at his feet. He bent down. The pflot sat there, a inches from his boot. He reached down and picked it up. It struggled and bit, but not as hard this time. “How did you get back here? Or are you a different one? Coulda been a hundred of you lot and we wouldn’t know it. I’m taking you back to Steve.” Since he was still without a shirt, he had nothing to wrap it in this time. He opted for putting it the empty cargo pocket on his left thigh. It didn’t try to crawl out, just turned around a bit until it settled.
He still hadn’t arranged for the insulated cargo containers or been in contact with any cryo facilities. That took precedence over returning the thing in his pocket to the Zoo team. It wasn’t dangerous and seemed quite comfortable resting in his pocket, so leaving it there wouldn’t hurt.
It was hours until the various reinforcements arrived. The Army had loaded the Styrofoam coolers containing the body parts into a truck and had taken it back to the nearest base, where everything would be flash frozen and loaded into the shipping container. Jake had gone along to oversee the operation. The Zoo team and a handful of soldiers were still inside the ship, cataloging the rest of the animals, checking for any more discrepancies in the cargo roster. The Recovery team had finally arrived along with two Weevil Warriors- Siegfried and Roy. He really detested those two. Their real names were both Andrew. They thought they were the toughest blokes at Torchwood, because both of them could wrestle a Weevil to the ground single-handed. He wished that the frog would have exploded on them instead of Rose. Then again, they would have worn the blood and guts like a trophy. Wankers.
The operation lasted until well after dawn the next morning. Jake had returned in the early hours, the cargo of animal parts already on a plane to London. The Zoo team had been ferrying the animals to the Australia Zoo, but had run out of room. Arrangements were made at a two different game preserves nearby to handle the overflow. Recovery had set up a tent city outside the crash zone. The Okoran ship was too big to transport, so it would need to be studied and disassembled. They’d be there for weeks. Mickey was glad he was only First Contact. His team would be taking the sub-orbital back to London and be home for breakfast tomorrow. Then he thought of the mountains of paperwork that would be generated from this mission. Maybe he’d stick around and see if Recovery needed an extra set of hands…
Everything First Contact could do had been done by ten in the morning. They left the truck and all the gear in it for Recovery to use, and boarded the sub-orbital. It was controlled by an internal guidance system, no need for a pilot. The three team members settled themselves in the seats and strapped in. Rose gave them each a shot to counteract the effects of travel and then belted herself in as well. There was some kind of mechanism that offset the G-force of high speed travel, but it still affected the inner ear. Take off sequence was initiated and they were on their way to London.
Mickey felt something move in his pocket. Oh Shit. He had forgotten the Pflot. “Um, Rose?”
She had been dozing lightly in her seat. “Hnn?”
“I think I might have forgotten something. No chance of us turning around now, is there?”
“It can wait, whatever it was. Once we’ve hit the upper atmosphere we can’t go back, you know that.”
“Alright. But as my superior, I need to inform you that I might have accidentally brought one of the animals aboard.”
Rose was awake now. She sat up and turned to him. “You what?”
He looked to Jake for help. He was just sitting there, trying to fight a smile. Bastard. See who would bail him out next time he got into a scrap with one of his boy toys.
“It was in the truck and I put it in my pocket so I could finish contacting Torchwood and making all the arrangements an’ everything. I forgot about it.”
“Shit. Let’s just hope it doesn’t die before we get back to London. We’re going to get our asses handed to us if it does.” Rose settled back against her seat. “You’re going to have to ring Torchwood and the ground teams, so they don’t go ape over it missing.”
“Hey, d’ya think they’d let us keep it? Sort-of like a mascot?” Weird little thing was growing on him. He’d never had a pet growing up, though he’d always wanted one. And what would be cooler than a parrot-gerbil from an alien planet?
Rose snorted. “Just make your calls.” She shifted in her seat, making herself comfortable.
Mickey sent the requisite messages. “She needs a name,” he said to no one in particular. Rose snuffled, but didn’t reply, already being halfway asleep.
Jake looked over to him. “I’d call it Spot.”
“Spot’s a stupid name. Like a dog in a kids’ book.”
“Just sayin’. Might want to have a look at your trousers, while you’re at it.”
“Wha?” Mickey looked down. A dark stain was spreading from his pocket and down the front of his trousers. “It took a wee on me! That little bastard just used my pocket as a lavvy! Isn’t that typical!”