Methven - Day Two - Part Three
"You did say 'poison'?"
"Yes, Mr. Wilson, I did."
"Dude! That's, like, totally grievous."
"Precisely the point, Mr. Carstairs. It makes what are otherwise little more than toys into formidable weapons."
"I don't think I like that idea at all."
"Don't count on it."
She turned to face me, hands on hips.
"Mr. Wilde, the reality is that, on Methven, it is customary to employ poisoned ammunition for small arms. Arrowheads and the edges of blades--particularly those of throwing knives--are also often coated with poison. I can assure that the inhabitants of this planet will not adjust that custom to suit your prejudices."
"Mother Læ is saying a trueness."
"Thank you, Mantami."
"What's th' dance with th' poison darts?"
"I believe Pith is asking about the nature of the poison we will employ. Does it act on contact, or must the skin be broken in order for it to act? Is it a nerve agent or a hemotoxin, or does it act via some other mechanism, such as cellular disruption? How quickly does it work..?"
Læ held up a hand to stop him.
"All good questions, Mr. Wilson. The various cultures of Methven each have developed their own particular poisons. As it happens, the Vomisa produce the deadliest and fastest-acting nerve toxin known to the Centran Totality. An average human will succumb to it instantaneously and it will kill a full-grown tacht in less than a second."
"And we shall make use of this venom?"
"Indeed we shall, Mr. Wilson."
Just then, Bruno emerged from his "suitcase" wheeling a dolly on which sat a gun rack in a transparent case.
"Gentlemen, would you be so good as to choose your weapons?"
Bruno unlocked the case and stepped out of the way to allow us to inspect the racked munitions within. The case held an assortment of pistols and long guns, all of which looked surprisingly familiar.
I said as much.
"Certain design priciples are universal, Mr. Wilde. The physical conformation of small arms is a case in point."
"I knew that."
"I was just testing you."
"Of course you were."
"So, like, who makes these plinkers?"
"An excellent question, Mr. Carstairs. In the Vomisa Mountains, the primary source of small arms is the members of a peripatetic organization which might best translate into English as a 'tinker's guild'."
I dug my fingernail into the barrel of one of the pistols.
"Hey! This feels like some kind of plastic!"
"It is precisely that, Mr. Wilde."
"Now wait a second--earlier today, you said these Methven guys were technologically backward."
She shook her head.
"I said no such thing, Mr. Wilde."
"Oh? And what about that whole 'Prime Directive' song and dance?"
"Mr. Wilde, I fear that you are confusing the absence of specific technologies on this planet with a general lack of progress. They are not the same thing. It is true that Methven has yet to develop certain technologies with which you are familiar. Nonetheless, it can not be considered technically 'backward' by any reasonable metric. In point of fact, in certain areas--such as petrochemistry--their science is on a par with that of your planet. In others--such as probability engineering--Methven is far ahead of your Earth."
"So, your 'Prime Directive' just keeps you from introducing new technologies?"
"Again, I fear that you are laboring under a misapprehension. We have no 'Prime Directive", per se. Instead, several tens of your centuries ago, we adopted a set of general principles by which contact with non-Centran cultures is to be conducted. One of those guiding principles is to try to refrain from introducing non-native technologies or significant improvements in existing native technologies. When circumstances so warrant, however, we do make exceptions to that policy."
"And I was worried about my moral flexibility."
"Never mind. It would take too long to explain."
"Undoubtably. Would you care to select a weapon?"
. . .
I picked a pistol, of course. So did Bill, Mantami and Læ. The others chose long guns. Then we spent a couple of hours plinking away at the same targets we'd used for archery practice (with ordinary, non-poisonous darts, mind you) before we broke for another one of Bruno's culinary productions.
I was horse-hungry. Yesterday's ordeal took a lot out of me and I'd been working hard all afternoon, so I filled my face as if it was Thanksgiving.
I wasn't alone, either. For the best part of half an hour, the silence around our campfire was broken only by the sound of working jaws and the occasional satisfied grunt as we all tucked into Bruno's haute cuisine. It wasn't until after the dessert course--neon-blue, intensely-sweet fruit sections served on a bed of bitter greens with a tart, orangey-black sauce drizzled over it--that we did any significant conversing.
"Dude, I am, like, gorged to the max."
"Me three. I'm stuffed like a mailbox on Election Day."
"Y'gonna' do th' coffee dance, Bruno?"
"A splendid suggestion, Pith! Caffeine ingestion would seem a sovereign remedy for post-prandial lethargy."
"What he said."
"Do I take it you gentlemen would prefer not to proceed with unarmed combat training for the moment?"
"Is a wild bear Catholic?"
"It is likely Mr. Wilde is attempting to be humorous."
"Thank you, Bruno. I assumed as much. However, the reference is lost on me."
"You and Bruno really are aliens, aren't you?"
"Actually, with the sole exception of Mantami, we are all aliens here, Mr. Wilde."
She shook her head.
"I was not essaying humor, Mr. Wilde. I spoke the plain truth. Only Mantami is native to this universe, much less this world. We others, including both Bruno and I, are all alien creatures on Methven. You would do well to remember that."
"Believe me, it's hard to forget. But, what I meant was, 'You're not Earth-type humans, are you?'"
"No, we are not."
"Well, that accounts for your stilted English, and it accounts for your missing the joke in my mangled cliché. And I guess Bruno being a cyborg accounts for his stilted English..and for his having no sense of humor at all.."
She looked puzzled.
"What ever do you mean?"
"I mean he's the Great Stone Face. I mean he doesn't laugh at my jokes because he doesn't know how."
"Shit, Wildman, don't nobody laugh at yo jokes."
"Shut up, Tong. I'm serious here. Bruno has no sense of humor. None. Nada. Zip. A big, fat goose egg."
"Nonsense. Bruno has an exquisite sense of humor."
"Uh..Læ..remember T'fosc Minor?"
"Oh my. I apologize, Mr. Wilde. You are quite correct. At the moment, Bruno has no sense of humor at all. As Carleton has just reminded me, our last mission demanded it be deactivated and I apparently failed to restore it once that assignment was completed."
"You turned off his sense of humor?"
"The inhabitants of T'fosc Minor take a very dim view of jokes. They consider them evidence of insincerity. Since I needed Bruno to negotiate a very ticklish property rights issue with them, I deactivated his humor subroutines for the course of their negotiations."
"So, all you have to do is flip a switch and he's suddenly Mr. Personality?"
"Something like that, yes."
Just then, the subject of our discussion emerged from his magic suitcase bearing a steaming pot of coffee.
"Bruno. Restore humor subroutines. Set as default."
"Hey Bruno! Why did the chicken cross the road."
"It seemed like a good idea at the time, Mr. Wilde."
I had to grin.
"Not too shabby. It's a shame you can't do something about that drawing-room delivery, though."
"Oh, but I can, Mr. Wilde."
She turned to face Bruno, who was just pouring her a cup of coffee.
"Bruno. Set verbal subroutines to colloquial mode. Set as default."
"Right on, sister. Need anything else?"
"Not at the moment, thank you."
"I take it his use of slang is somewhat outdated?"
"You could say that."
"Dude! You mean Bruno is, like, a hippy?"
"It would appear so."
(Copyright© 1997 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)