Monday, July 11, 2016

Salt: A Short Story


This story does not really make scientific sense, salt is likely extremely common in the galaxy.



Salt

by Floyd Looney


Of all the worlds under the veil, why this one?” Irena grumbled.

We just needed to get off that decrepit freighter, I don't think it's space worthy!” Brad answered as he piloted the two-seat shuttle-pod toward the only city on the world below. It was at the center of a greenbelt, which was surrounded by dense jungle and rivers, then not far beyond that was desert that covered most of the planet.

This is not good! I heard that women are bought and sold down there, we should just go back to the freighter,” Irena said, pretending to panic.

Brad just laughed, “You are perfectly safe. I can guarantee that.”

What else do you know about Dunga?” Irena asked. Brad frowned but tried to look distracted by the piloting of the ship. Irena knew it took very little effort to fly the thing, they'd flown together one hundred and seventy-two times. Thirty-seven of those times she was the one who piloted.

I'll tell you,” She told him, “First noted in survey logs in 2234. First explorer on the ground was in 2244. First science outpost established in 2264. A Terran colony was planned to be put here in 2275 by the United Authority before the rebellions started across the veil. During the first phase of the Terran Collapse, someone named John Belfrey Roberts claimed the planet and settled it with a handful of families loyal to him. He made himself their king. Are you listening?”

He nodded, “It's just a history lesson, so far. Anything important I should know?”

She nodded, “They are not very technologically advanced, their economy can't support anything too complicated. Because of this, the people have become sort of technophobic. For one they have outlawed androids...”

Brad smiled and looked at her as their shuttle-pod flew low toward the space-port ahead, “Nobody is going to know that you are an android, believe me you look completely human.”

Yet, I am safe from being captured and sold as a female because I'm an android?” Irena asked.

No, I forged the documents that show I own you, of course,” He said as the shuttle-pod landed on the broken tarmac with a thud.

You... you own me?”

The glasserine sides of the cockpit slid upward and the warm air from outside tossed her blond hair around for a few seconds, she was still staring at Brad.

What do you mean that you own...” She started to say when the ground crew arrived.

Welcome to Dunga!” a short, fat balding man said in greeting. He wore a white toga-like wrap as everyone seemed to wear on this world. Advanced clothing was hard to come by, and only the upper classes would be seen wearing dyed cloth.

My name is Brad Alexander, and this is my female,” He told the man and handed over some paper documents that would prove this was true.

Very good, sir, everything looks to be in order,” the man said giving the documents back with a bow, “Shall we take care of your pod, sir? Very small charge.”

Just wash and park it,” Brad said and tossed a cylinder of salt to the man.

Oh my,” The man exclaimed when he discovered what he had been given.

I see that you have done your homework, but that was far too valuable locally to be handing out as a gratuity,” Irena said as she followed him toward the small terminal building. Salt was impossible to find on Dunga, it was not naturally found there. With the slow collapse of star travel, the people of Dunga were in a real bind, “Still this was a stupid place to choose, what if we are never able to leave again?”

Brad glanced back. It was a warning to stop talking and as she entered the building Irena noted that there were a lot more people there than one think for such an empty space port. There were dozens of men and some of them holding leashes of females sitting on the floor. It looked like they had been camped out there for some time, it was a mess and the people were disheveled.

Please, sir, can you get us off this world?” one of them begged, which opened the floodgates and soon Brad was being jostled and surrounded by the beggars. Irena itched to throw those people to the side but she played the part of a woman owned and stood there meekly. Of course she watched Brads backpack closely.

Stop it!” someone shouted and then there was a loud popping noise. The beggars froze and then began moving away, seemingly frightened. Two guards carrying some sort of beam weapons came up to Brad.

Are you okay, sir?” One of them asked, “Sorry about them vagabonds. They all want to get off of Dunga something fierce.”

Brad nodded, “I understand. I've come on business, I want to help this world. Perhaps there is some local authority I can speak with about what I have brought?”

The guards looked at each other and back at Brad, “There is only one authority on Dunga. We're not a big colony, we don't need more than one.”

Our leader is called the Primero Uno de Dunga, his name is Frederick Cavendish Roberts. The tall building at the center of town is his Palace,” the other guard said, “You'll want to find transport, I don't reckon you'd be safe seeing how you are obviously a stranger here.”

Brad made it through the main desk and then rented an ancient two-seat transport bubble. The agent admitted it had glitches but that since these things weren't manufactured on Dunga it was the best they were likely to find.

Once they were on the road, she saw that Brad had a little trouble with the bubble transport, it kept pulling hard to the left.

What exactly is in the backpack?” Irena asked, “You stole it from the freighter, obviously.”

Brad laughed, “Of course. It's not like they'll turn around to come look for it.”

Do you know what it is?” She asked.

He nodded, “I'm pretty sure I know what it is.”

Irena looked outside to her right, “You have no clue. Are you really going to bluff your way into a meeting with the colony's leader with a device you don't understand?”

He stopped the bubble vehicle and sighed, “Listen, Irena, the device I swiped from the freighter is a bio-matrix. It seems designed to do two things, immediately make it possible to locate whatever salt this world has. Two, over a long time it can change the ecology of this planet.”

She looked down at her lap, “Not exactly complimentary things.”

He started the vehicle moving again, although she had noted the complete lack of other traffic on the roads they passed and it was only early evening.

Brad spoke after a few moments, “Dunga is far from the only colony that imports, or should I say imported, all of its salt. The matrix was designed for another planet, but I am sure it will work well enough for this one.”

If the device could only locate salt then it was probably useless on a world without any known salt, even in trace quantities. If it could create salt by combining the constituent elements it was the most valuable thing on this world. Irena was sure Brad didn't know which it did.

You don't know anything about those devices, they are very rare. It's not even something they included in my database,” Irena told him, “If you show that thing to the leader of this planet, he could take it and have you killed.”

They reached the capitol, the parking area was guarded by several armed soldiers, the whole compound was patrolled by heavily armed soldiers. Irena kept her mouth closed and simply looked straight ahead, playing her part again.

What's your business here?” The soldier asked, looking into the bubble vehicle at both of them. Then with a glare he checked the proffered documents and called someone on his wrist radio, the reply sounded completely garbled but he seemed to understand it.

I have come to this planet on salt business,” Brad told the soldier in charge who made another call on his wrist before waving them through the gates.

This feels like a trap,” Irena said watching the heavy gate slam shut in the rear-view monitor.

Brad parked the vehicle and the sides slid open, “Just stand there and watch me do my magic. I will have the Primero Uno de Dunga eating out of my palms.'

There were more guards at the door, but there were soldiers just inside. He showed the documents again and then whipped out another vial of salt. Irena noted that he must have pocketed all of the salt vials and tablets that had been served since they had become a team. He had always ordered two meals, to make people think she was human.

The main soldier came out of the door and everyone else stood aside. His face was red and he eyed the vial of salt that Brad was holding.

I am Marshall Hansen, It could be very dangerous to go around brandishing things like that on Dunga,” the officer said, “I assume you wish to meet Mr Roberts, but the man doesn't need to make deals to get hold of salt.”

Brad shook his head, “No, that's not why I am here. I have brought a device that could end the salt crisis on Dunga.”

The soldier nodded, “I have heard that before. Go in and to the right you'll find a sitting room, stay there until you hear something.”

Brad and Irena were soon sitting across from each other, with a glass table between them on which the backpack sat. After a few minutes a man servant stood in the doorway and said, “The Primero Uno de Dunga will see you now.”

They were led into a large ornate glass-topped room full of plants and trees surrounding a pool of deep blue water. A fat man was swimming in the pool, but two naked females sat at either end. When he reached one of the females he rolled over, facing up and was fed some kind of fruit. Then he rolled his fat naked body over and swam to the other end where this was repeated.

Sir, this is the man who has come about salt,” the man servant said.

The Primero Uno de Dunga finally noticed them, he smiled and waved. Then he climbed out of the pool and his two females dried him off and then wrapped a cloth about his round body. Finally he approached them.

Welcome, welcome to Dunga my friend!” The man said, taking Brads hand into his own in a very friendly greeting, “I understand this is business about salt?”

Brad nodded, “I have a device that might solve all of your salt problems.”

The Primero Uno led them to a round couch and took a seat behind a desk that faced it. The jolly man quickly took the facade of a serious leader. Then he nodded, “Before we begin, I would like to warn you that Dunga has become averse to false salt merchants, the last two were hanged. Salt deficiency on Dunga has a high mortality rate from hyponatremia. It's a nasty health issue, to say the least and the people here are desperately tired of it.”

Brad cleared his throat, “This device is the real deal.”

He pulled it out of the backpack and sat it on the table in front of the couch. They both watched the device for a long moment before the Primero Uno spoke up, “So, what does it do?”

You have heard of a bio-matrix, right?” Brad asked, “They can be designed to do some amazing things but it's always very narrow. It might purify water, or make dead soil fertile again, but it never does more than one or two things.”

The fat man wave a hand in the air, “I know what a bio-matrix is.”

Brad nodded and indicated the device he had set down, “This is one. This is a bio-matrix. It can use the planets natural atmosphere and produce salt.”

The man nodded, “How much salt can it produce in an hour? A day? Under what conditions does it work?”

That all depends on the planet, of course. We could test it and find out.”

The fat man leaned back in his seat, “I see. Let us assume that this device works as advertised, what are you asking for it?”

Brad thought about it, “Passage on the next ship out of here.”

The Primero Uno de Dunga laughed, “I suppose, but I rather doubt we see another trading vessel, or any vessel again in our lifetimes. So choose something else.”

Do you have a ship?” Brad asked,

The man laughed, “If I had a ship, I would have left Dunga by now.”

Irena was about to make a suggestion when Brad spoke up again.

Okay, just make me one of the richest people on Dunga, then,” Brad told the man, “Lots of house, a nice yard, women... the works!”

Frederick Cavendish Roberts laughed and stood up, “This has been entertaining. I think we need to see the device work before we waste any more time.”

Brad stood up and lifted the device.

Nearly half the people on this world are suffering from low-salt levels, fifteen percent of the population are in hospitals. Hyponatremia is a scourge for the people of Dunga, and we take these things very seriously,” The fat man said as they followed him through a corridor and then outside. Soon enough they reached a pond, mostly surrounded by high weeds and trees.

Here we are, the ideal location for a demonstration,” The leader of Dunga said, “So activate the device or this will be your execution.”

Brad set the device on the ground, a bald place amidst the grass. Then he tapped some of the flat screen icons and there was a high-pitched whine that sounded like it ascending higher and higher. Then it became a deep, low tone that sounded like it was descending until it stopped and there were some electronic beeps.

It is activated,” Brad said, sounding a bit relieved.

The Primero Uno de Dunga watched the device for a moment, “So how long should we wait?”

Brad shrugged, “It wasn't designed for this planet, but it is similar enough that it should work. That freighter wasn't going to make it to the destination.”

I suppose we shall make a picnic of it then,” The fat man said and called his man servant, “Fetch a nice picnic, the good wine and send my girls with blankets and pillows.”

Before long a spread of food was before them and Brad ate as he watched the device. Irena looked toward the pond to avoid watching the fat man cavorting with his two female slaves right out in the open. The giggles and his laughs disturbed her programming, which considered any kind of slavery to be an injustice.

The sun had gone down but the area was well-lighted.

It's working!” Brad said, “It has finished calibrating to the atmospheric conditions. It says here that it needs to have one end of its hose, in the back compartment, in the water and someone needs to keep adding sand into the top compartment. It can produce more than ten vials of salt in an hour.”

The leader of Dunga was quiet, “That's not much. We'll try keeping it operating all day and night, I suppose and see. Still, I'd be surprised if it can produce as much as we can from urine or sweat. Every bit helps, though.”

The man stood up and wrapped the sheet around his body again, the girls wiping off the bits of grass for him.

I don't suppose you'll be executed as a fraud, after all,” Primero Uno de Dunga said, “but your android might be a problem.”

Brad looked shocked.

She didn't even look at the food, she hasn't had a bite since you arrived,” he told Brad, “If the device continues to work, I might look away for a while. If anyone else finds out she is artificial, then there will be some trouble.”

Soon he and Irena were sitting near the device as it continued to perform, a soldier came and stood nearby. Obviously he was there to guard the bio-matrix.

We should not have come here,” Irena told him.

We probably should not have left Rigelus VII,” Brad told her.

Don't be foolish, we would be dead by now if we had stayed. That whole place is one big atrocity now.”

He smiled, “If we had stayed on the freighter, we'd probably be floating amidst space debris by now.”

Irena was quiet as Brad checked the machine again.

The bio-matrix is interesting. It takes some elements from the soil and some from the water to make salt. If this device had reached Flaxus, the leftover would have been a silicate that could be used to make electronics,” Brad told her, she was studying the stars. He leaned closer and said in a lower voice, “Don't you want to know what's left over on Dunga?”

Irena shook her head, “If it isn't inter-spatial crystal, then what's the point?”

Brad laughed, “That's just wishful thinking, very human. No, the leftover of this process on Dunga, is an explosive-fuel sort of thing. I suppose it has its possible uses.”

Such as?” Irena asked.

Such as mining asteroids,” He told her, “Sure the life support system on the shuttle-pod is breaking down, but an android wouldn't mind. Right?”

She looked at him like he had lost his mind.

We have to earn our keep here. There are things in those asteroids that can't be found on this dirt ball and would be valuable,” he told her, “Besides, I want to build things and explore this desert planet while we're here.”

Irena shook her head, “This world is dying. It seems pointless.”

Brad sighed, “I'm human. I want to survive, I want to scratch and claw for an extra day if I must, I guess giving up is an android thing. Humans on Dunga can survive, I don't know how many or in what kind of condition, but humanity needs to fight.”

Irena nodded, “Then do that. We both know that interstellar space travel for humans is a thing of the past, now. Very few worlds have the population, economics and technology to keep exploring their own solar system, small worlds like this one are completely isolated. When Earth and Terra Delta were lost, it was all over, it just took some time for it to be noticed.”

Brad said nothing.

The human species is about to become very primitive. It could be centuries before the human race, if it survives, will travel the stars again. So, by all means, send your android to break rocks.”

Brad laid flat on his back, “We have salt. We can survive in some form. Surviving right now, is the most important thing. Humans will be back, eventually!”


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