Read Tales From the Clarke Online

Authors: John Scalzi

Tags: #Science Fiction, #Fiction, #General

Tales From the Clarke (4 page)

“Then stop talking to me about it and do it,” Coloma said.

“Yes, ma’am,” Basquez said. “I’ll let you know when everything’s cleaned up.”

“Good,” Coloma said. She turned away from Basquez and saw Wilson walking up to her. “You’ve lost your flock,” she said to him.

“I didn’t lose them, I parked them in the officers lounge to watch a video,” he said. “Then I went to the bridge to find you, and Balla said you were here.”

“What is it?” Coloma said.

“It’s our Earthlings,” Wilson said. “I’m pretty sure they’re not actually from Earth. Not recently, anyway.”

“You’re basing your suspicions on a baseball team?” Neva Balla asked, disbelievingly. Coloma had her report to the conference room she and Wilson were in and had Wilson repeat what he had said to her.

“It’s not just any baseball team, it’s the
” Wilson said, and then held out his hands in a helpless sort of gesture. “Listen, you have to understand something. In all of the history of professional sports, the Cubs are the ultimate symbol of complete failure. The championship of baseball is something called the World Series, and it’s been so long since the Cubs have won it that no one who is alive could remember the last time they won it. It’s so long that no one alive knew anyone who was alive when they won it. We’re talking
of abject failure here.”

“So what?” Balla said.

“So the Cubs won the World Series two years ago,” Wilson said. He nodded to Coloma. “I made a joke to Captain Coloma here that I’ve been using that security clearance I have to check baseball box scores. Well, it’s not a lie, I do. I like having that connection back home. Yesterday when Tiege mentioned being a Cubs fan, I sent in a request for the Cubs’ season stats going back to when I left Earth. As a Cards fan, I wanted to rub his face in his team’s continued failure. But then I found out the Cubs had broken their streak.”

Balla looked at Wilson blankly.

“Two years ago the Cubs won a hundred and one games,” Wilson continued. “That’s the most games they’ve won in over a century. They only lost a single game in their entire playoff run, and swept the Cards—my team—in their divisional series. In game four of the World Series, some kid named Jorge Alamazar pitched the first perfect game in a World Series since the twentieth century.”

Balla looked over to her captain. “This isn’t my sport,” she said. “I don’t know what any of this means.”

“It means,” Wilson said, “that there’s no possible way a Cubs fan who has been on Earth anytime in the last two years would fail to tell any baseball fan that the Cubs won the series. And when I identified myself as a Cards fan, Tiege’s first reaction should have been to rub the Cubbies’ victory in my face. It’s simply impossible.”

“Maybe he’s not that big of a fan,” Balla said.

“If he’s from Chicago, it’s not something he would miss,” Wilson said. “And we talked enough about baseball last night that I’m pretty confident he’s not just a casual viewer of the sport. But I grant you could be right, and he’s either not enough of a fan or too polite to mention the Cubs ending a centuries-long drought. So I checked.”

“How did you do that?” Balla asked.

“I talked about the Cubs being the ultimate symbol of professional sports futility,” Wilson said. “I needled Tiege about it for about ten full minutes. He took it and admitted it was true. He doesn’t know the Cubs won the Series. He doesn’t know because the Colonial Union is still enforcing a news blackout from the Earth. He doesn’t know because either he’s a colonist bred and born or is former Colonial Defense Forces who retired and colonized.”

“What about the other people on his team?” Balla asked.

“I talked to them all and casually dropped questions about life on Earth,” Wilson said. “They’re all very nice people, just like Tiege is, but if any of them know anything about Earth anytime since about a decade ago, it got past me. None of them seemed to be able to name things that anyone from the United States or Canada should know, like names of sitting presidents or prime ministers, popular music or entertainment figures, or anything about big stories of the last year. A hurricane hit South Carolina last year and flattened most of Charleston. One of the women, Kelle Laflin, says she’s from Charleston but seems completely oblivious that the hurricane happened.”

“Then what’s going on?” Balla said.

“We’re asking the same question,” Coloma said. “We have a team from Earth here to buy this ship from the Colonial Union. But if they’re not from Earth, where are they from? And what do they intend with the ship?”

Balla turned to Wilson. “You shouldn’t have left them alone,” she said.

“I have a crew member watching the door,” Wilson said. “They’ll let me know if one or more of them try to slip away. I’m also tracking their PDAs, which so far, at least, they don’t seem to separate themselves from. So far none of them show the slightest inclination to sneak off.”

“What we’re trying to decide now is what Colonel Rigney knows about this,” Coloma said. “He’s the one we’ve been dealing with for this mission. It seems impossible to me he’s not behind this charade.”

“Don’t be too sure,” Wilson said. “The Colonial Defense Forces have a long history of inborn sneakiness. It’s one of the things that got us in trouble with the Earth in the first place. It’s entirely possible someone above Rigney is pulling a fast one on him, too.”

“But it still doesn’t make any sense,” Balla said. “No matter who has dropped fake Earth diplomats here, we’re still not going to be selling this ship to anyone on Earth. This charade doesn’t add up.”

“There’s something we’re not getting,” Wilson said. “We might not have all the information we need.”

“Tell me where we can get more information,” Coloma said. “I’m open to suggestion.”

Coloma’s PDA pinged. It was Basquez. “We have a problem,” he said.

“Is this another ‘I think we have a potential energy flow’ kind of problem?” Coloma asked.

“No, this is a ‘Holy shit, we’re all definitely going to die a horrible death in the cold endless dark of space’ kind of problem,” Basquez said.

“We’ll be right down,” Coloma said.

“Well, this
interesting,” Wilson said, looking at the pinprick-sized object at the end of his finger. He, Coloma, Balla and Basquez were in engineering, beside a chunk of conduit and a brace of instruments Basquez used to examine the conduit. Basquez had shooed away the rest of his crew, who were now hovering some distance away, trying to listen in.

“It’s a bomb, isn’t it,” Basquez said.

“Yeah, I think it is,” Wilson said.

“What sort of damage could a bomb that size do?” Coloma said. “I can barely even see it.”

“If there’s antimatter inside, it could do quite a lot,” Wilson said. “You don’t need a lot of that stuff to make a big mess.”

Coloma peered at the tiny thing again. “If it was antimatter, it would have annihilated itself already.”

“Not necessarily,” Wilson said, still gazing at the pinprick. “When I was working at CDF Research and Development, there was a team working on pellet shot–sized antimatter containment units. You generate a suspending energy field and wrap it in a compound that acts like a battery and powers the energy field inside. When the power runs out, the energy field collapses and the antimatter connects with the wrapping. Kablam.”

“They got it to work?” Basquez asked.

“When I was there? No,” Wilson said, glancing over to Basquez. “But they were some very clever kids. And we were decoding some of the latest technology we’d stolen from the Consu, who are at least a couple millennia ahead of us in these things. And I was there a couple of years ago.” His gaze went back to the pinprick. “So they could have had time to perfect this little baby, sure.”

“You couldn’t take down the whole ship with that,” Balla said. “Antimatter or not.”

Wilson opened his mouth, but Basquez got there first. “You wouldn’t need to,” he said. “All you have to do is rupture the conduit and the energy inside would take it from there. Hell, you wouldn’t even need to rupture it. If this tore up the inside of the conduit enough, the disruption of the energy flow would be all you need to make it burst apart.”

“And that has the added advantage of making it look like an explosion based on material failure rather than an actual bombing,” Wilson said.

“Yeah,” Basquez said. “If the black box survived, it would only show the rupture, not the bomb going off.”

“Time this thing so it goes off right before a skip, when you’re feeding energy to the skip drive,” Wilson said. “No one would be the wiser.”

“Rigney said we needed to keep to a schedule,” Basquez said, to Coloma.

“Wait, you don’t think
planted this bomb, do you?” Balla asked.

Coloma, Wilson and Basquez were silent.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Balla said, forcefully. “It makes no sense at all for the Colonial Union to blow up its own ship.”

“It doesn’t make sense for the Colonial Union to put fake Earthlings on the ship, either,” Wilson pointed out. “And yet here they are.”

“Wait, what?” Basquez said. “Those diplomats aren’t from Earth? What the hell?”

“Later, Marcos,” Coloma said. Basquez lapsed into silence, glowering at this latest twist of events. Coloma turned to Wilson. “I am open to suggestions, Lieutenant.”

“I have no answers to give you,” Wilson said. “I don’t think any of us have any answers at this point. So I would suggest we try finding alternate means of acquiring answers.”

Coloma thought about this for a moment. Then she said, “I know how we can do that.”

“Everything’s ready,” Coloma said, to Wilson, via her PDA. Her words were being ported into his BrainPal so he’d be the only one to hear them. Wilson, on the floor of the shuttle bay with the fake Earthlings, glanced over to the shuttle bay control room and gave her a very brief nod. Then he turned his attention to the Earthlings.

“We’ve already seen the shuttle bay, you know, Harry,” Marlon Tiege said to Wilson. “Twice, now.”

“I’m about to show it to you in a whole new way, Marlon, I promise,” Wilson said.

“Sounds exciting,” Tiege said, smiling.

“Just you
” Wilson said. “But first, a question for you.”

“Shoot,” Tiege said.

“You know by now that I enjoy giving you shit about the Cubs,” Wilson said.

“They would kick you out of the Cards fan club if you didn’t,” Tiege said.

“Yes, they would,” Wilson said. “I’m wondering what you would ever do if the Cubbies actually ever took the Series.”

“You mean, before or after my heart attack?” Tiege said. “I would probably kiss every woman I saw. And most of the men, too.”

“The Cubs won the Series two years ago, Marlon,” Wilson said.

“What?” Tiege said.

“Swept the Yankees in four. Final game of the series, the Cubs hurler pitched a perfect game. Cubs won a hundred and one games on the way to the playoffs. The Cubbies are world champions, Marlon. Just thought you should know.”

Coloma watched Marlon Tiege’s face and noted that the man’s physiognomy was not well suited to showing two emotions at once: utter joy at the news about the Cubs and complete dismay that he’d been caught in a lie. She couldn’t say, however, that she was not enjoying the spectacle of the man’s face trying to contain both at the same time.

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