Eric Flint: The Rats, the Bats and the Ugly

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    The Rats, the Bats and the Ugly
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Eric Flint


The Rats, the Bats and the Ugly

Dave Freer


Prologue

The planet Harmony and Reason, a human colony; a starship, both vast and alien, in the middle of

George Bernard Shaw City, the colony's capital.

At center stage: five Korozhet conspirators, all members of the inner-high, in their adjoining waterbaths.

"The un-implanted human, the one that was reported to the spawnship as being involved in this disaster, must certainly die-and as soon as possible. He will have seen too much when he rescued the juvenile Shaw creature."

So spoke the Ruling Five-high, with the certainty that always characterized her while in female form.

The Purple Seventh-instar clattered its spines in vigorous agreement. "While he is a low-status creature, we cannot overestimate the importance of this human's immediate death. It was from just such neglect that the campaign against the Jampad suffered. Serious steps must be taken with the human military. Fortunately, we have virtually complete control of their command structure. We will of course not be betrayed by the implanted human or the uplifted creatures. Nonetheless, I agree it is wise to have the implanted human taken into custody as their social structure makes her death undesirable. Difficult, for a certainty."

"Do you think that this 'Cartup' will understand the implications of the device he has been provided with for securing her compliance?" asked the High Five-spike. "There are certain inherent dangers involved. We do not want the trigger phrases to be discovered."

"The calculators indicate a very low probability. He is unaware that the device would affect anyone except this 'Virginia Shaw.' He is quite unaware of what it actually does. It contains the standard self-destruct booby traps, after all."


***

In the diffuse green light, cringing figures moved hastily between the spiky shadows reclining in their waterbaths. The slaves were careful not to make any noise that might disturb their masters. To do so was to invite certain pain, if not death, and even the most wretched slaves still clung to life. The air was full of hissing sighs. The squat, blue-furred, four-armed slave carrying the bucket of live baby Nerba, the master species' favorite snack, almost gagged at the thickness of the naphthalene reek.

"Still. One of the Overphyle is dead at the hands of a human. We cannot allow subject races to think that this is even possible-let alone something that will go unpunished. Is there any chance that word could spread back among the Magh' nests or the human hives?"

The Nerba-carrier did not allow the faintest change in his posture or manner to betray his pleasure. The implant in his head said that the death of one of the Overphyle was an awful thing-but the Nerba-carrier's hatred of the Overphyle, and all their works, was almost as intrinsic to him as the programming not to attack a Korozhet was in his implanted soft-cyber chip.

He walked closer to one of the inner-high, and placed the Nerba cub on the floor. The soft-furred little creature creeled weakly and hungrily. A dart hissed out of one of the Korozhet killing spines, and impaled it. The little thing screamed as the neurotoxins were pumped into it. The Purple Seventh-instar heaved itself out of the bath, humped over the prey, and began to evert its stomach into the snack. Nerba died slowly, and this one was still pleading weakly as the digestive enzymes liquefied its flesh.

Controlling his revulsion, the slave walked on to the next inner-high of the Pentarch. This one was speaking, so he waited, respectfully. "They are still putative subjects. I hold, despite their dexterity, that these humans will make poor slaves."

The Purple Seventh-instar that was busy feeding clattered its spines again. "Those we have captured and implanted have proved more than adequate."

"But their ability to resist our Magh' client-species is better than predicted. And if the confused reports coming from their media are to be believed, there is a possibility that our plans and works might be uncovered."

As always, that being its principal function, the High Five-spike was the voice of caution. The Ruling Five-high shifted in her waterbath.

"It is a low probability, considering the level of influence we have on their leadership structure. But nonetheless we must send in a clean-up squad. And perhaps step up supplies of materiel from the spawnship to our client-species. See that the Magh' are contacted on the closed beam, and given such information as the clean-up team can gather. As a final alternative there is always direct action. We have a large slave army, potentially, at our disposal."

The youngest of the inner-high flicked his spines in respectful assent. The slave had learned to read the clatters as clearly and easily as the soft-cyber implant had taught him the Overphyle's speech. The youngest of the inner-high was still diffident in his suggestions. He was only a sixth instar, after all. "Perhaps some chemical agents, Highest? And some more sophisticated delivery mechanisms, for the client-species?"

"Yes. And bring my snack, slave. Before I dine on you."

The slave did. Then moved cautiously away, as hastily as he dared. He was just in earshot when he heard one of them say something that made him nearly drop his bucket. "Do you think that there is any substance in the report that a Jampad was freed in this debacle?"

The slave desperately wanted to stay and listen. But he dared not. There were slaves of some seven different species on this ship. But he was the only one of his kind, and he had not believed there could be others, so many light-years from home. Had one of his people succeeded in breaking free?


Elsewhere in George Bernard Shaw City, in a space more cavernous but no less dark.

At center stage: other conspirators.

The third of the plotters, as usual, arrived late for the meeting.

"Where the hell have you been?" demanded one of those already there. "How can somebody with a reputation for being a genius not read a clock? You know-those gadgets that have two hands, one long, one short."

"Save that tone for those who intimidate easily. You ought to know by now it's wasted on me. Besides, I've been productively occupied."

The conspirators, from long years working together, knew each other's tastes. One of them smiled evilly at the tardy one. "Killing swine, eh?"

"Not yet. Just sharpening the blades."


***

When the meeting was over, the old tastes resurfaced.

"When shall we three meet again?"

The other two laughed. "When the hurlyburly's done, of course," chuckled one of them.

"And the battle's lost and won," added the other, in a grimmer tone of voice. "Assuming you don't show up late again."

Chapter 1

The colony world of Harmony and Reason.

Enter a military vehicle, returning from the front.

Its motley inhabitants, each in their own fashion, celebrating the first victory of humankind and its allies against the alien Magh' invaders.

"Hic!"

Private Chip Connolly looked up into the terrifying upside-down gargoyle-face. The long white canine teeth gleamed against the twisted, folded blackness of that face. The batwings briefly unfolded, as the jeep hit some severe corrugations.

"Hic!" said the plump bat again, dangling from the metal struts that held the canvas cover.

"Why are you making that funny noise, O'Niel?" asked Virginia, snuggling into Chip and blinking myopically at the bat.

The bat blinked back at her. "Why Ginny, 'tis traditional when you're drunk as drunk can be. And it is feeling I am as if the drunk is turning into a hangover, indade. So in the interest o' prolonging the drunk, I'm after stickin' to the tradition."

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