“The citizens of New Earth must be expecting someone to appear from the ancient depths of space.” I didn’t know if I was trying to reassure myself or my assistant. “After all, the cradle of life is littered with functioning spaceships.”
The tractor beam continued to draw us in.
“They’ll welcome us, surely.” Zaki sat by the comm station, frantically scanning for radio waves. A tiny human-sized headset stretched around his giant, furry head. “We’re scientists. We mean no harm.” Static modulations filled the cockpit as he fidgeted with the dials.
I sat by the viewing station, trying to get a fix on something—anything. We were too far out. New Earth glimmered pale blue against the darkness of space, slowly growing. “We’re also bears, though. That’s kinda weird.”
The ship had been designed for humans, so we had to be careful with the controls. I gently tapped a button with my claw, summoning vector data. They hadn’t zapped us—that was a good sign. They probably thought we were human. But no: two humble bears reached out to a civilization that had long-ago taken to the stars.
I pondered the possibilities before us. At best, they’d answer our burning question: Why had they left? They might show us the wonders of the universe, take us to galaxies afar, and bestow on us the finest honey that was ever created.
Or, they might kill us…
New Earth swelled on the screen as the tractor beam continued to pull us in. I studied the dusty green landmass surrounded by blue ocean—eerily similar to home. I’d just noticed a plume of black smoke on the planet’s edge when a burst of radio chatter spluttered through Zaki’s headset.
Holy paws of Rekta. It’s them.
Zaki jumped to life. His furry paws fumbled with the dials to optimize the audio.
“What are they saying?!” I bounded to his shoulder. The human language sounded like a mixture of a bubbling stream and trilling birds to my ears. Zaki had studied their words, but the ancient texts couldn’t account for millennia of linguistic drift.
“I don’t know!” He threw his paws in the air, narrowly missing my face. “It’s totally different!”
The ghostly voice pervaded the cockpit, competing with hissing static. A female voice. A voice tainted with urgency… fear.
“It’s… it’s a widebeam signal.” Zaki adjusted his tiny glasses with a huge, furry paw as he scanned a data screen. “It wasn’t aimed directly at us.”
“A general broadcast.”
I rushed back to the viewing station. The ship lurched sideways—like a boat struck by a monstrous wave—and knocked me off my feet. My head collided with the cold steel deck. My glasses smashed to pieces.
Dizzying black mist clouded my vision. Across the galley, a red warning flashed on the screen: NEW TRACTOR BEAM DETECTED. The mist became a thick, bottomless well, like a never-ending jar of honey. I was falling, falling…
I lost consciousness.
I woke on a hard mattress with a blood-soaked bandage wrapped around a blistering headache. Bright lights clawed at my eyes and a faint hum like a distant beehive pervaded the air.
The room gradually came into perspective. Gray metallic walls enclosed an air conditioner and several exotic machines covered in tubes, dials, and unfamiliar symbols. The entire setup looked somehow transitory—as if assembled in a flash and not designed to last.
A distant rumble. The room around me shuddered.
With a low-pitched whine, a pneumatic door to my right opened. My paws gripped the bed sheets. A flawlessly pale humanoid with a white lab coat and wide, unblinking eyes walked in. His shoes clicked on the shiny, metallic floor as he approached my bed. My faithful assistant, Zaki, followed timidly. Thank Rekta.
“Hello, Yosta,” said the humanoid. His voice meandered like a cold, gentle river. “My name is Bert. How are you feeling?”
How on New Earth does he know my mother tongue?
My eyes darted from Bert to Zaki. My assistant’s face drooped with exasperation.
“I’m… I’ve hurt…” My mouth quivered, and the words melted inside me. I held my head.
“I apologize for your injuries.” Bert raised his hands. “The enemy was drawing you in. We had to set our gravity weapons to full power to wrest your ship from them, hence the sudden jolt.”
Zaki’s claws scratched across the metal floor as he shifted uncomfortably. More rumbling in the distance.
“Yes, Yosta,” replied Bert, his faced colored by regret. “Here in the TRAPPIST-1 system, humans and robots have been at war for the past seventeen years.”
The ground seemed to tilt beneath me, making me nauseous. Our grand voyage to the stars had led us to a planet at war. The air conditioner hummed incessantly as my hopes and dreams melted before me. There was no place in a war zone for innocent scientific discovery, historical inquiry, or attending honey festivals. Though there’d be plenty of opportunity for people to kill us, even if we weren’t strangely large and fuzzy by local standards.
I swallowed the lump in my throat. “How—how far are the robots?” My tongue fumbled thickly over the words.
Bert flinched momentarily. He opened his mouth to answer, but recalculated. His eyes drifted around the room, searching for an answer. Zaki bit his lip, eyes locked to the ground.
“Bert, I just want to know if we’re in danger,” I pleaded. “How far are the robots?”
“Yosta,” he soothed. “Bert is an acronym. It stands for Bio-Electric Robot of TRAPPIST.”
“Oh… I see. Are we in danger?”
“We robots mean you no harm. And the humans are being taken care of.”
“Well, that’s… good.” I rubbed my paws. It wasn’t good. To come all this way in the name of science and find a planet at war was devastating. There was only one thing that could stave off an existential crisis.
“So, random question… any honey lying around? I’m kinda hungry.”
Can you guess which song from the 1960's inspired this story? Share in the comments! P.S. Havok Horde members could win a $10 Amazon gift card. (Not member? Sign up here.) First comment with the correct guess gets you one entry in a random drawing performed after each month ends.