They are Smol – AND INDEPENDENT

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series They are Smol Oneshots

The glow flickered before his tired eyes, and Glenn smiled.

“And we have how many of these things?”

Jonathan looked at the clipboard tablet, scrolling through the declared items list. “About 5,000 of these for this station. We can hand out about 10 per employee.”

The glow changed to something a bit more frantic, sparks spreading across Glenn’s desk. He picked up the device and twisted it’s base – the sparks exploded out in more fury, coating his desk in white-hot light.

And only light.

“I’m absolutely astounded the aliens didn’t think of this. A hard-light sparkler.” Glenn twisted the base of the e-cigarette looking device the other way, and the sparkles condensed and abated until the tip was little more than a glow with some aspirations. “No chance of actual fire?”

“None. It only broadcasts a maximum of a foot in any direction; after that something fucky happens with the wavelength holding the hardlight together – hell, I don’t know, I’m not a luxologist or whatever they’re calling it – and it loses cohesion. Kinda fades away, but in a matter of miliseconds. But no heat.”

Glenn cupped his hand over the end and turned it up, the sparks casting a harsh enough light under his palm to illuminate through his skin – but other than a nice, dull and healthy red there was nothing. No pain, no force, even. Just pretty, pretty light.

“10 per employee? Let’s be honest here – we can triple that and just hand it to the few-”

– – –

“-AMERICANS and I WILL NOT HAVE MY CULTURE NEUTERED LIKE THIS.” Jessica ranted, holding 3 max-level sparklers between each finger like wolverine, pointing them accusingly at the filthy britbong colonizer before her.

“Jessica, look.” Mike said, sighing. “We can’t have explosives on the station-”

“Not with that attitude-”

“-it’s too much of a hazard-”

“No, not if you’re safe! I’ve only blown my fingers off like, three times, max, and the pinky finger doesn’t even count. It’s like an hour to reattach them if you can find most of it-”

“-You literally grabbed the sparklers out of the box, lit as many as you could, and started to throw them around the break room.”

Jessica narrowed her eyes at her erstwhile friend and colleague. “America.”

“That- ugh.” Mike sighed, rubbing his eyes. “That’s. That’s literally the point-”

“What happened to you, Mike?” Jessica said, softly, her ever-sparkling wolverine claws lowering to her sides. “You used to be… well. Mike. Is it because Shaggy-”

“Her NAME was Sheila, and no. That’s not it at all.” Mike said, crossing his arms. “And look, we’re just taking a break, alright? I mean… sure, I need to start pulling my weight a little bit more, and I should have a direction in my life by now, but, I mean. It’s not like …”

The two of them stood in the breakroom, looking at each other for a few moments before Mike broke eye contact. “Look. Doesn’t matter. Point is this is what you get – and hell, it’s not like half the world doesn’t celebrate independence from Britain at some point in the year, so, it’s not that spec-”

“Michael J. Fox, I swear to you on everything I hold dear, I will end you if you end that sentence.”

“First, that’s not my name, second, we also became independen-”

Jessica threw her hands up, the sparklers casting a menacing backlight as she cried out in exasperation. “You wrote a strongly worded letter like, 300 years after you were founded. You don’t fucking COUNT.”

“Yes we do.” Mike responded matter-of-factly. “And we don’t care. This is what you get for celebrations; try not to destroy too many of them – other employees on the station want to celebrate their own holidays too.” And with that, he turned on his heel and stormed out, foolishly turning his back on the rabid hard-light-casting wolverine with too-much free time. This was his first mistake.


And he symbolically turned his back on America too, so. That’s his second mistake.


America.


– – – – –

Rgrezneh-of-Hrzgaren sighed as she hand-counted the boxes from Elevator Cargo Transport 11-C, making marks on an extremely archaic paper clipboard. The Tiny-chompers demanded that everything be double-checked – even when that double-checking happened on the ground, by drone, by scanned computer and a half-dozen other algorithms and automated systems – but it was their culture and their systems and if she had to do it to stop ‘the rise of Cargonia’ (whatever that is) then she had to do it.

Rgrezneh-of-Hrzgaren also took a bit of a guilty pleasure in taking her time counting the boxes; it was an active warehouse, after all, so she was surrounded by a dozen or so other tiny-chompers at any given time, along with their helper drones and other senate members. Every so often she would share a knowing look with her colleagues – usually when one of them were hover-handing around a tiny-chomper as it climbed a shelf or rode a drone because “it’s quicker this way”.

“{Mmm. Crate 11-C-418. Stable Magnesium, copper chloride, potassium nitra-}”

“[Hey!]”

Rgrezneh turned around before looking down a half second later, a [human] female standing before her, a large cylindrical bag hanging off her shoulder. “[Hi!]”

“{Oh! Hello, uh…}”

“[You can call me tiny-chomper eagle-screm – at least, everyone else does. I was uh, wondering something.]”

Rgrezneh put on her best “I’m interested” look, but behind that mask her mind was racing. It was an open secret that the tiny-chompers would… attempt to get the upper hand on negotiations whenever they possibly could, and the things they would usually ask for would seem innocent at first pass.

Key words there being “seem innocent”.

“{Yes?}”

“[Well. I was simply wondering, uh. I know you help manage the incoming supplies from Dirt and I know you’re probably busy and I was just hoping-]”

“{I will not let any tiny-chomper have ‘first dibs’ on what comes up from Dirt. I don’t need that lecture. Again.}”

“[No, no – nothing like that. I was just curious – Is that the metalworking and industrial powder shipment headed towards [Bright Riser before the Dawn]? The droneship test?]”

Rgrezneh thought for a moment: A human she has never seen asking an almost innocent question about a shipment headed towards one of their inner planets. There was nothing classified about what was happening on the world, the ship was an unmanned drone carrier on a well-plotted and public transit, the containers held nothing but common and semi-processed materials worth a credit per half-dozen kilos, and everything within the containers was inert.


Something terrible was going to happen.


“{I’m… sorry, who are you? I don’t see you in Warehouse yellows-}”

“[Oh! I’m just uh, walking through, you know how it is. Stretching the legs.]”

“{You said you were… Eagle-screm?}” Rgrezneh questioned, pulling up the personnel reports with her implant and keying in the tiny-chomper name into the identification database. ”{. . .The same Eagle-screm that is floppy-nap’s friend?}”

“[You know floppy-nap? Are you Rgrezneh?]”

Rgrezneh blinked. “{Y-yes?}”

Eagle-screm narrowed her tiny eyes at the much larger female, and although there was absolutely no way the tiny-chomper could physically hurt the Dorarizin, her body subconsciously tensed to be on the receiving end of a pounce. “[Woman… what did you do to the male?]”

Rgrezneh was taken aback, tucking the clipboard under her arm. “{I… if you’re interested in him as a mate-}”

It was Eagle-screm’s turn to physically flinch backwards, causing Rgrezneh to mirror her movement slightly. “[What?! Agh, NO. No, just – he used to be fun and now he’s like… actually doing his job and stuff.]”

“{Well isn’t that a good thing? Shouldn’t he be trying to make his system and the galaxy a better place?}”

“[I guess…]” Eagle-screm said, wrapping her arms around herself in what Rgrezneh recognized was a self-soothing gesture. “[I just… think he’s doing it for the wrong reasons, yanno? Like, to get you back or something-]”

Rgrezneh sighed. “{Look, your Year-End celebration was special, and I enjoyed my time with floppy-nap, but… I mean. I just don’t see a future with him, you know? I’m all for stability, but when it’s just sleeping, eating and – cuddling, it gets old.}”

“[Mmm. Well. I’m not here to play matchmaker, but I will say that’s a very dumb reason to drop someone.]”

Clearing her throat, Rgrezneh stood up to her full height. “{Yes, well. My reasons are my own, and I certainly don’t need to be lectured by someone I just met about matters of the heart. Now, what in the five packs do you want? Tell me or get out – I don’t even think you’re supposed to be here.}”

Eagle-screm smiled. Rgrezneh did not like this smile.

“[Well. It’s my people’s independence day celebration coming up, and we received a shipment of these from Dirt-]” Eagle-screm pulled out a small, battery operated something and turned it on. Immediately the tip began to glow, and a small fountain of deteriorating hard light shells spewed out of it in an omnidirectional haze. “[You can check them for yourself, but they’re approved for the station for celebrations. I realized that some of my colleagues on [Bright Riser before the Dawn] may not have anything like this, so I was hoping to just add them to the shipment. Maybe a dozen or so – you can check with Stationmaster Tiny-Chomper Astral-projecting-out-of-his-body-because-he’s-done-with-everything, but they’re inert and safe for transport.]”

Eagle-screm put the tiny battery-powered light diffuser in Rgrezneh’s paw, the small thing almost disappearing as the Dorarizin closed her hand around it. “{I mean… I’ll have to check, but. The drone won’t be leaving for another day, and – when is your celebration?}”

“[Tomorrow.]”

“{It won’t get there.}”

“[I know.]” Eagle-screm shrugged. “[But as my people say, ‘better late than never’. I just got these a day ago – or today? I don’t know, time is… weird up here.]”

“{If you’re missing time that means you need more sleep, tiny-chomper.}”

Eagle-screm rolled her eyes in a sarcastic manner. “[Gosh, MOTHER. Thank you for your concern. I’m just asking, is it alright if I pack this and add it to the shipment?]”

An innocent request. Everything approved – darkest hells, manufactured to safety specifications. Everything would be scanned, in triplicate, and packed safely.


Something terrible was going to happen.


“{I don’t… think I can allow this.}”

“[Why?]”

‘{Because I have a gut feeling and you tiny-chompers do shit like this all the time}’ Rgrezneh thought, sighing internally. “{There’s not enough space.}”

“[I checked the manifest – tiny-chomper hello-big-boots says you’re sending the drone out only 3/4 full.]”

“{Wasn’t he building a dispenser-}”

“[Yeah, I helped him with that and we just got to talking!]”

Rgrezneh chewed her cheek in worry. “{I don’t have the table capacity to pack these properly-}”

“[Already done.]”

“{. . . You’ll need to get the package scanned-}”

“[Alrea-]”

“{I will need to scan the package.}”

“[Ok!]” Eagle-screm said, hefting the bag from her shoulder to the ground. She unzipped it and struggled slightly to pull out a large (for her) octagonal tube, already sealed with various ‘approved’ stickers, declaring the contents inside and by which inspector approved what part of the contents. Rgrezneh picked up the light container, hefting it in her hand as she turned it over to examine.

“{…what’s the padding?}”

“[Well, around each sparkler are hardpacked aluminum-magnesium shells. Hello-big-boots and I figured it would make more sense to pack them in material the colony would need anyway, killing two birds with one stone[Trans:: Idiom?]]”

“{Alright… interesting choice. Follow me please.}” Rgrezneh said, turning and loping slowly to a contraband station. She took some pleasure in hearing the fast-walking-almost-jogging padding of her suspicious visitor, Eagle-screm breathing hard to match pace.

The two of them reached the standalone island table, the new package addition being placed on the glowing pad. Immediately a few small mechanical arms popped out of the table face, pressing themselves against the packing shell itself. Sonar, radar, lidar and various other -ars pulsed through the arm, giving anyone whose implant was attenuated to the device a full view of the inside of the package.

Tubes. Tubes packed in aluminum and magnesium, densely and tightly wrapped together in what looked like… simple cellulose fibers, coated with a binder. Sure, there was a little void on the front and back, but that was to be expected given how tiny-chompers did… anything. The spectrogram began to read off the various ingredients inside – aluminum, magnesium, sulphur, silicon, lithium, cellulose, oxygen, iron-

Inert. Inert. Inert. Her implant, almost boringly so, tagged each ingredient as inert, given their positions and compositions within the container. Sure, Lithium and Di-hydrogen Monoxide were an explosive combination together, but when separated by iron and aluminum – not so much.

“{This is just a normal package.}”

“[Uh. Yeah.]”

“{. . . Who put this together?}”

“[Me, Hello-big-boots, Tiny-chomper Cave-Moon-gel.]” Eagle-screm said, innocently.

Rgrezneh’s hackles were fully risen, her fur was standing on end, there was something not making sense but for the life of her she couldn’t pin it with her claws. The cold feeling in her stomach grew to numb her limbs, and with a thought the table shut down.

“{I guess… I’ll put it in the shipment.}”

“[Great! It’s already labeled, so. It should wedge in pretty nicely.]”

“{Yeah.}”

The two of them looked at each other for a moment.

“{……well?}”

“[OH! Right, ok, see ya!]”

And the tiny-chomper, totally innocently, breaking no rules and doing nothing underhandedly, going through the proper channels, with no criminal history or reprimands for vandalism, theft and/or violence, slipped a completely innocent and innocuous care package onto a drone ship headed out the very next day.

Rgrezneh did not sleep until it left the station.

– – – – – – –

The Jornissian looked up from her book as a familiar chirp interrupted her thoughts. Coming up to her slowly was a very familiar Karnakian. “[Hey Tr’Grakz.]”

“[Greetings, Shpressnrek! How do you fare today?!]”

The Jornissian shrugged, putting a marker in the borrowed human book she was reading. “[Pretty good. I was told by a few of the [Humans] to hang out here – glad to see you made it as well.]”

The Karnakian almost full-body bobbed up and down, a 1000% eager smile spreading across his features. “[Yes! Apparently the [American] territory is celebrating it’s independence today – I was told to show up here as well to partake in the festivities!]”

The door opened again, and a few more Dorarizin, Karnakians and Jornissians wandered in, pulling up seats or just taking in the scenery of the planet below them. Shpressnrek leaned in close – which is easy to do when your whole body is a spine – tilting her head to the open door. “[You’re… recording all this, I trust?]”

“[Me?!]” The Karnakian said, shocked. “[Why, I would never! I also would never make them available on Galnet Node 714-B, Under 118.4JB-22./966. Ever.]”

“[Very good.]” Shpressnrek smiled. “[I’d also hate to add my own footage to such a place, if it ever were to exist-.]”

The door opened again, this time filling in with various warmcuddles and little-needs-protectings. The two friends nodded at each other and separated, the Jornissian making herself presentable and the Karnakian… apparently scaling the sheer wall in order to ‘not be in the way’.

To their credit, none of the Humans even flinched as the Karnakian gouged talon-holds in the aluminum. Whether they were chalking it up to cultural difference or ‘it’s that feathery fuck again’, we will never know.

“[Hello, Shpressnrek.]”

The Jornissian turned around – again, super easy to do when you’re just a spine with ambition – and nodded her head in greeting at her Dorarizin friend. “[Rgrezneh! Good to see y- you look terrible.]”

Rgrezneh shrugged, unceremoniously sitting down next to her friend. “[Yeah. No sleep, just… You ever have a [Human] come up to you and-]”

“[Oh by Hsresh-who-shepherds-the-lost, what happened.]”

“[Nothing.]”

“[Oh no.]”

“[I know.]”

The Jornissian started to look around, her implant pinging a few of her colleagues with a Code Gray. A few more heads of various races were suddenly on swivels.

“[What happened. Tell me exactly what happened.]”

“[I put an approved, scanned, inert package on a drone ship to [Venus] at the behest of [Jessica], who has no record at all.]”

“[Oh no.]”

“[I know.]”

“[Where is this ship now?]”

“[Bearing 224.]”

Shpressnrek paused for a moment, her mouth moving in a subvocalized speech as she tapped into a network that Rgrezneh could only speculate at. Each person that was stationed here had their own; ways of getting messages to allies, of pulling strings, of setting events in motion. In other instances, this would be for intelligence and counterintelligence gathering, sabotage and subterfuge. Around Earth, however, the mission of every network was much more simple:

Protect these little idiots, and please, to whatever deity is listening, don’t let them blow themselves up. Again.

“[…Alright. I have someone who’s nesting with a tower control operator. She’s got an override.]”

Rgrezneh’s face soured a little. “[Isn’t that… a bit cruel, though?]”

“[Do you have any idea how many times they’ve already almost defaced their moon? And not in the ‘emergency landing splat’ level of defacing, but in the ‘I have a maser powered by a ship’s engine and no atmosphere or oversight to stop me’ level?]”

“[No, I mean-]”

“[Fifteen. Fifteen times, this past year alone.]”

“[I’m not talking about that – I mean, your colleague nesting with the [Human]. Isn’t that kind of cruel?]”

Shpressnrek tilted her torso, keeping her eyes level with her friend. “[What?]”

“[Just. Are you getting close to the [Human] because you care for them, or is it to be in a position to leverage them?]”

Shpressnrek stared, hard, for a moment, before sliding down into herself. “[Ah. This is about [Mike].]”

“[ . . . ]”

The Jornissian sighed – or just hummed, it’s hard to tell even when translators worked flawlessly between the two ancient species – and picked at a couple errant scales. “[I’m not going to deny that it happens, sure, but in this case I don’t think so. It’s always a case-by-case basis.]”

“[So how do you know?]”

“[I mean. I figure that’s up to you. If you have thoughts that you’re using [Mike] for his position, and are ashamed of that thought, then I’d venture to say that you do actually like him. If you didn’t, then you wouldn’t care that he loves you.]”

Rgrezneh stared long out the window, small specks of light dancing on shipping lanes only their AIs could see. “[I guess.]”

“You guess what?”

The two aliens – apex predators, both – full-body tensed in surprise, rounding on the human who had dared to just… walk up to them like that!

“[Mike!]”

“Y-yeah?!” Mike said, arms up in a vaguely ‘I should probably try to protect my face’ kind of way. “I uh – I hope I’m not interrupting anything, but I just… wanted to say hi, is all. Um.”

The Dorarizin and the Human stared at each other, silently.

“Did you get-”

“[I saw that-]”

They both stopped, then smiled. “You first, please.”

“[I saw that you, ah, have been putting in a lot of work recently. That’s good, [Mike].]” Rgrezneh said, softly. “[I’m glad to see you’re pulling your weight.]”

“Oh! Y-yeah, I uh. I figure as one of the people who run this joint, I should probably get my act together. Um. So. So that’s what I’ve been doing.”

“[It’s… good! It’s actually very good, and… well. I’d love to help you -OH SWEET ANCESTORS NO.]”

Mike and Shpressnrek turned to look at what had immediately derailed Rgrezneh’s train of thought. Shpressnrek immediately started to furiously whisper something to herself, but Mike just shrugged and waved Jessica over.

“Eyo!”

“EYO YOURSELF, YOU FUCKING LEAF.”

Rgrezneh growled, but Mike just sighed. “That’s… normal. For Americans.”

“[The sparkling red, white and blue clothing?]”

“Yes.”

“[The hard-light sparklers taped to every part of her body-]”

“Yes.”

“[The – is that a kinetic weapon?!]”

“It better not be – JESS-”

DON’T TREAD ON M- oh goddamnit give that back to me-” Jessica whined, as a Karnakian pulled the freshly-printed long-rifle from her arms, holding it just up and out of her reach. It – and the station – was safe… as long as her high jump remained weak.

“…this is normal for Americans.”

“[All of them?]”

“Yes. Well. Just this time of year. Or Memorial Day. Or when they get bored.”

The three station employees watched in silence as the American jumped a few times for the weapon, said something very rude to the Karnakian while giving him a kick in the jewels, and stormed over.

“Jessica, that was actually assault, and we’ll have to-”

“[Wait, [Jessica]?!” Shpressnrek murmured, a horrible dawning realization spreading across her features.

SHALL. NOT.

Mike rolled his eyes. “Yeah, and those rights are yours if you’re on your territory’s sovereign soil-”

“My Country’s fucking soil, Mike.” Jessica hissed, poking her finger a bit too roughly into the Canadian’s chest. “And everywhere I am is America.”

“[N-no. This is Zephyr Station 8.]” Shpressnrek helpfully clarified, nodding to herself.

“Am I here?”

“[Y…es?]”

Then this is America.” Jessica hooted, holding up her wolverine-sparkler hands in triumph. “AND YOU WILL ALL BOW BEFORE ME-

“Listen here, I don’t give a fuck! I’m tired of every year you people-”

“What do you mean you people-”

As Mike and Jessica began to fight, Shpressnrek made a furious set of calls. Whatever was on that drone ship had to be stopped, right now. A few moments down the chain and the confirmation came back – emergency stop, all engines reverse.

Shpressnrek shared a look with Rgrezneh. It was half “go get your man” and half “we’ve stopped the worst of it.”

It was at that point that a small, infinitesimal speck of the vast universe spread before the party-goers lit up like the fucking sun, in orange, blue, purple and green – the gas cloud of fire and dust spreading apart to be many dozens, if not hundreds of kilometers wide.

You see. When you full stop a droneship that has gravitational plates, momentum is conserved.

When momentum is conserved, you have a shifting of contents. Since everything is tied down and packed tightly, this isn’t too much of an issue.

But there’s a gap.

When you have a gap in an octagonal tube, the contents shift forward suddenly, rapidly. The cellulose bindings, lovingly coated in phosphorous sulfide, grind against the rough iron oxide interior of the container, causing, well.

Fire.

Fire and Magnesium/Aluminum are what traditional sparklers are made of.

Traditional sparklers burn hot enough to kickstart a thermogenic reaction between aluminum and iron oxide.

This combination of metals is known as Thermite.

And so the container made out of solid Thermite melted through the container below it, igniting the magnesium, copper chloride, potassium nitrate and the half-dozen other industrial metal powders that do thousands of things in the construction and metalworking industries.

But they also make some very pretty fireworks.

Mike stared, in awe and horror, at the expanding space-firework. “Jessica what did you d-”


“SHALL NOT”

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  1. Eh, Jessica came off as a total asshole in this one, what with her being an ass towards Mike, lying to that sharkmouthwolf lady, and then destroying an entire shipment meant for a colony, just so she could look at pretty lights. =p
    Also it kindof came off as if every American turns into a dick to everyone else on 4th of July. I have more faith in humankind than that, and I’m a student of the Terry Pratchett school of cynicism.

    1. The first rule of Zephyr Station 8: Everything has to go to shit.
      The second rule of Zephyr Station 8: U gotta look good while it happens

    2. It is a point of pride that we should be so grating, dickish and unmanageable. That is what independence is all about. God bless america. A little cargo blown up in the void of space smells so sweetly like tea in the harbor.

  2. I don’t think we’ve had a smol smol meet any xeno’s. How would any act if they saw a kid?