Challenge #01704-D243: Collateral Self-sacrifice
Everyone knows that humans are indomitable. Against level five or above Deathworlders, they are dogged and determined. Against disaster, they have a thousand ways to triumph. Even the most mundane of their species has exhibited what they call hysterical strength in times of ultimate stress.
But over the years, Galactic Society has learned that there is one thing that humans cannot withstand. Disapointment. They arrive too late. They arrive on time, but the disaster has already claimed too many - which is a relative term. Too many deaths in a row, too many losses, and the humans lose morale. And yet they will continue to dig through the rubble and sift through the wreckage until every body has been found.
The humans, endurance predators to the end, will slow. And leak. And make ugly noises. They mourn peoples they never knew. Break down over infants they never saw alive. Rage and curse against forces of nature and war that they couldn't help. And Galactic Society noticed. As much as the United Fellowship of Terran Planets was the Galactic Emergency Response Team, other Galactics recognised that they also needed a share of wins.
It began after the mass asteroid impacts of Cestus III, when entire cities were destroyed and the survival rate of the colonists was one in ten thousand. When the entirety of the UFTP dedicated itself to raising memorials and the whole fleet was in mourning. The Velethi Medical Vessel Hurt-fix got 'winged' by a passing micro-meteor and the ship itself foundered.
Captain Jorgh, noting that the ship's human had had to be tranquillised because of their grief, realised what all the humans needed. They needed a clear and definite victory. "Oh no," she said in mock grief. "Our ship has been crippled. We're going to have to make an emergency landing."
First Officer Plekk didn't get it. "Captain, our automated systems can repair the breach, just enable them."
"I said, our ship has been crippled," said Jorgh. "It's been crippled. The humans will have to come and rescue all of us."
Light finally dawned and First Officer Plekk flipped a few switches. "We appear to be venting atmosphere. Recommend we ditch on the surface of the barely-habitable area near the worst of the damage, sir."
"Try to make it a rough landing, if you would, Helmsman Grax? Minor injuries all round, I think."
"Minor injuries, aye aye." More flipped switches. "It appears the helm is having trouble responding. It's going to be a bumpy ride."
"Send out a distress signal," said Captain Jorgh. "And apologise for interrupting the recovery work in the remains of Hyarkiss city."
The comms officer urgently began typing. Not trusting hirself to act properly for screen or audio. As a sign of dedication to the ruse, she left all her hurried typos in the finished message. Ze also made certain to correctly sabotage the comms so that text was the only means to communicate.
The landing hurt. Jorgh expected that. But it was also so rewarding to see the humans laughing and smiling that they had "live ones," as they were wont to say. The humans picking through Hyarkiss sped up, even though their work was grim.
Other assisting cogniscents noticed. In amongst the recovery work, helper crews got themselves into pickles. One team of Galactics even chose to reproduce, because nothing invigorates a team of humans like welcoming a new life into society. Even if it is a new life made out of tentacles and slime.
It wasn't until months later, when there were no more bodies to recover and the UFTP were headed back to their original missions, that the metaphorical penny dropped. The ships' historian for the UFTP Ulysses was enjoying some relaxation time in the Officer's Mess with her friends. According to anyone observing her, she was 'spacing out'.
And then she spoke.
"Back before the Shattering, there was an act of war. Terrorists flew vehicles into large buildings. The fastest and most massive loss of life in memory. And that's including Hiroshima. Long-lasting damage, too, since they fireproofed those buildings with asbestos." A deep breath. A sip. A sigh. "They tried to rescue people after the buildings fell. They called the site Ground Zero, by the way. The whole shebang. Human chains, moving equipment. Fire brigades. And search dogs." Breath. Sip. Sigh. "There weren't many people left to find. Not even parts of bodies. The dogs were thinking they were doing it wrong. They were getting upset."
"Poor dogs," said Carol.
"Yeah. So rescue teams would go and hide in the rubble. So the dogs would have someone to find. A morale boost for them."
Carol sipped her tea. Helped herself to another mouthful of cake. And realised. "No way. That's what they were doing for us?"
"It took me a while, too. Like... around about the fifth time some satellite workers needed a hand out of trouble that they could have easily fixed."
"I thought you got quiet around week four, Angie..."
Breath. Sip. Sigh. "I didn't know what to do about it. What to say about it. I wanted to be mad at them. Like... do they think we're stupid? But I kept seeing the others who hadn't clued on. They were happier. They could go back to finding bodies without breaking up..." Breath. Sip. Sigh. "So I said nothing and got on with it. And I had to admit... it was flakking effective."
Carol had to agree.
"It's only now I got it. They were just trying to show they cared... to people who show they care in different ways."
Carol finished off her cake. "You know they're going to keep it up from now on. Don't you?"
"Yup. And it's our solemn duty to make sure we never let them know that we know what they're doing."
Similarly, Captain Jorgh had said, "It's our solemn duty to never let them know what we are doing."
: Terrans are technically level four Deathworlders. Earth rates as 4.5 on the Deathworld. Level six is, so far, only theoretical.
: The humans said, "Always respond to a distress signal, for the emergency that's answered may one day be your own." It took some species quite a while to understand what they meant.
[Image (c) Can Stock Photo / guffoto]
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