A Sci-Fi Short Story by J. David Thayer


by J. David Thayer


Animated Sci-Fi comedy by J. David Thayer
Robots from Neptune


Stanton drove the rover to the coordinates identified on the naviscreen. The seismologists had predicted a new plume of garon gas would soon vent from this approximate location. But one could never be sure. Predictions were still guesses dressed up with maths. He descended his driving seat and strapped on his collection receptacle pack. Those old ideas still gnawed at his brain.
BASE, you read?”
We do, Stan. Go ahead.”
No, it’s.. Nothing. I’m ready for you to guide me into position. How close am I?”
Well, BASE detects the highest concentration of pressure is localized some 40 paces off your 9:00, Stan. Advise you stay by the rover until venting begins.”
Understood, BASE. Say, uh.. Is Major Willis there?”
I’m here, Stan.”
The work was difficult in the harsh environment, but serving the cause was its own reward. Lextree is a volcanic moon, traveling very near its gas giant captor Rikus. Seven larger moons orbiting further out, and an elaborate ring system, also tug on its core without ceasing. Tidal heating produces great fountains of sulfur and and other materials, many of which are unique to Lextree. One such element is garon gas. The specific seismic cauldron of Lextree is the only known source of garon in the galaxy.  It takes highly skilled teams to collect it.
Temperatures reach above 3,000 degrees near an active vent. However, the surface temperature on Lextree hovers around -215. This causes the cascading sulfur dioxide to freeze upon hitting the ground, and there are expansive plains of yellowed snow that never thaw. As beautiful as they are eerie. On certain off-duty evenings, Staton and Karen applied for leave to walk together through these alien, snowy fields. Stanton treasured these times above all others. Sometimes they observed the surrounding beauty in silence; sometimes they spoke of things common to all married couples. Sometimes Stanton shared with her his misgivings about the mission itself, as no one but Karen could be trusted with such heresy. But she always knew what to say to steer his mind back on course. He needed another dose right about now.
Hi, Love! How’s it going?”
Yeah, well.. You know. They tell me I’m in about the right place at about the right time, so…we’ll soon see, I guess.”
Understood. Anything I can do for you?”
Nah.. I don’t think so. Just… I’m kind of thinking about the butterblooms again, that’s all.”
I see.”
This was code, of course. The BASE team was comprised of peoples from eleven different planets, but Stanton and Karen were the only two from their home world of Thaildean. On Thaildean there once grew a wild vine producing lovely flowers called butterblooms. But as their cities expanded, the hardy vines eventually became barriers to progress, and so a chemical intervention was introduced. The hope was a slight amount strategic herbicide would prevent the vines from encroaching any further, but the outcome was catastrophic. The entire species was completely eradicated after a single dose. Gone forever. Some months later, botanists discovered the butterblooms themselves produced an oil with great medicinal applications. Only a few dead butterblooms remained as laboratory specimens. The compound was impossible to replicate.
Yeah. I can’t shake it, Karen.”
Stan, BASE is wondering if we might be of assistance? We read no irregularities on your monitors. Is there a problem?”
No problem, BASE.”
Sometimes Karen had to reminded Stanton how they had worked their entire lives within the scientific community to earn this very opportunity. Remind him this was a peaceful mission, and nothing could be more honorable than helping the Planetary Union expand into other territories throughout the galaxy. And most importantly, she often had to remind Stanton there are no definitive studies linking garon gas exposure to the deaths of any indigenous peoples. That notion was baseless speculation spewed forth by radical conspiracy theorists—nothing more. Garon gas provides a harmless, natural barrier. One that allows native peoples to retain nearly their entire planetary surface area, to live as they have always lived, while also culling out very small colonies for the expanding P.U. Exploration and diplomacy and rich cultural exchanges. The entire galaxy benefits from their good work every day. She reminded him of all of these truths often. Again last night, in fact.
But this time, come to think of it, Stanton didn’t even argue. Something was terribly wrong; he loved arguing, especially with her. Karen began to piece some things together. 
Her stomach fell.
BASE, I think we should abort. Abort! Captain Stanton, please return to BASE at once!”
Major Willis, BASE is unaware of any reason to abort the mission. Please advise.”
BASE, I have no intention of aborting today’s mission. Permission to carry on?”
Affirmative, Stan. Do Proceed.”
A fissure opened near the left side of the rover. First a bitter hiss, then a small plume of garon gas billowing into the atmosphere. It would seal again soon. Stanton approached the venting gas, extended the collection boom, and filed his canister. Then he returned to the rover and pointed it on a return trajectory towards BASE Camp. However, one unauthorized experiment was slated for the return voyage. He began at once.
BASE, be advised. Am conducting additional garon tests at present. Please log my results upon return, as I suspect I will be unable to do so. Rover out.”
Stan! Don’t do this! Please!”
Stan, this is BASE. Do clarify intent.”
No response.
Captain Stanton connected the newly-filled canister to a valve at the base of his respirator. The mixture was quite low—well below any levels considered harmful. As the rover began rolling back towards BASE Camp, edges soon became fuzzy. A distant hint of familiar yet out-of-place smells. Mild euphoria. Drowsy. Stan’s thoughts drifted to memories of the lovey butterblooms that once spread across the countryside of Thaildean. 
Hardy vines. Proud and strong.

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