Pack up your Trou­bles

A M Soto

Pulp Literature - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - A M Soto

A M Soto is a New Zealand-based multi-genre writer. She is also a mom, cook, knit­ter, and sports fan. Her poem ‘ North­land’ was pub­lished in Pulp Lit­er­a­ture Is­sue 10, Spring 2016 and more of her work can be found at adamari­a­

Pack Up Your Trou­bles

“What are you hum­ming, sir?”

Dav turned to the lieu­tenant. He was too young for the rank, his ves­ti­gial gills not even fully closed, but no one was who they should be any­more.

“It’s a song from Earth.” He hadn’t even re­al­ized he was hum­ming. One of many habits he had picked up on Earth. At first it was mimicry to put the hu­mans more at ease. Then it be­came some­thing he didn’t even think about. “You must have been on Earth a long time to learn hu­man mu­sic.” “Eight years, al­most 25 of theirs.” He shifted around. They were hud­dled in the re­mains of a small mu­nic­i­pal com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fice. Two walls were blasted open to the el­e­ments, while rub­ble cov­ered the floor. The rain hissed as it pelted against their por­ta­ble en­ergy shield. He was sure the rain never used to fall that hard, but there never used to be the par­tic­u­lates of 500 ships burn­ing up in the at­mos­phere. He shifted again and felt the last ap­ple in his pocket press against his leg.

He took an­other bite of ap­ple. The hy­per­space com showed him Isaa drink­ing scotch, look­ing so much older than when they had first met, his hair hav­ing gone white in the hu­man fash­ion. “Go easy on that ap­ple. I won’t be able to send you more for a while.” Dav took an­other bite. The ap­ple was start­ing to go to his head. His face was go­ing numb, and he swore he could see moon vines grow­ing up the walls. “I tried to stop them.” He heard the hiss in his voice badly ac­cent­ing his English. “I tried to talk them out of it. They didn’t un­der­stand. I couldn’t make them un­der­stand. They said you were too prim­i­tive to put up a de­fence, that they would take Earth be­fore the third moon eclipses the fourth.” “Home by Christ­mas. Do you know when?” He shook his head. An­other hu­man ges­ture that had be­come habit. “I’m out of the loop, as you would say. The coun­cil said I was too fond of you, of Earth.”

Isaa poured and drank an­other glass. “Well, if your peo­ple do take Earth, I guess you’ll get to come visit.”

“Earth won’t let it­self get taken, at least not for long. I tried to tell the coun­cil that.” He took a large bite of ap­ple, suck­ing down the juice first and en­joy­ing the cool numb­ness that bloomed through his body at the sweet taste.

“Ei­ther way, save those ap­ples.”

“I hear hu­mans will eat their young, and each other, and you can chop off their limbs and they won’t die,” a sergeant sit­ting next to the lieu­tenant added.

Those were some of the more mun­dane ru­mours he’d heard about hu­mans since the war started. The moons only knew what the hu­mans were say­ing about his peo­ple. “They don’t eat their young. They will eat each other if all other op­tions are taken away.” The dozen other hud­dled young soldiers flushed yel­low. “And if they get to a doc­tor quickly enough, they can

lose all four limbs and sur­vive. The doc­tors will even give them new ones.”

“That is im­pos­si­ble and … un­nat­u­ral.”

The hospi­tal was clean and bright for the tour. He stopped by a large win­dow that looked down into a room con­tain­ing a few par­tic­u­larly small hu­man young. All of the chil­dren had at least one limb with a me­tal­lic sheen. Doc­tor Isaa Fran­cis stopped with him.

“Now this we are very proud of. Ev­ery one of these chil­dren were born miss­ing at least one limb or lost one within the first six months of their lives. With adults we’ve found that graft­ing on a cloned limb works bet­ter. How­ever, for chil­dren who never had them, we get ex­cel­lent re­sults from these fully ar­ti­fi­cial ones.”

Two of the chil­dren at­tempted to toss a ball be­tween each other. They missed al­most ev­ery pass. “It does take slightly longer to learn to work the limbs in tan­dem, be­cause they are con­nected to dif­fer­ent parts of the brain, but by the time the chil­dren start school you’d never know the dif­fer­ence. We cover them with a skin match poly­mer, and they can func­tion as well as any other child. Bet­ter in some cases.”

A child of darker com­plex­ion, like Doc­tor Isaa Fran­cis, was at­tempt­ing to walk the length of a thin beam on two ar­ti­fi­cial legs while hold­ing the hand of an adult.

“Of course at this age they grow so fast they need con­stant re­cal­i­bra­tion and up­grades ev­ery six months.” The child walk­ing the beam reached the end and jumped into the arms of the adult. “I’m sure what you have is much more so­phis­ti­cated, but we’re still pretty proud of this.”

Dav nod­ded be­cause it seemed an ap­pro­pri­ate ges­ture. His peo­ple had noth­ing like this. The thought of los­ing a limb and sur­viv­ing was in­com­pre­hen­si­ble. To lose any­thing more than a finger, maybe a hand at most, would re­sult in shock

that would in­stantly shut down the brain while the body fran­ti­cally tried to pump blood to the miss­ing limb. They had never re­searched limb re­place­ment, be­cause no one had ever sur­vived los­ing one. “You should be proud of this, Doc­tor Isaa Fran­cis.” “You know, Am­bas­sador, you’ve known me a month. I think you can call me Isaa.”

Dav found him­self hum­ming again.

“What is that song?” some­one asked from the far side of the group. A civil­ian, if it could be said there were civil­ians any­more. Even he had been drafted in, in these last days. “It’s a song about war.” “Hu­mans sing songs about war?” “Yes. I think half their songs are about war. They sing about war be­ing good and war be­ing bad. They have songs about peo­ple go­ing to war, and about the peo­ple they leave be­hind, and songs about com­ing back from war, or not.”

“You can­not go to war with Earth,” Dav pleaded to the Grand Coun­cil. It never used to be like this. The high arches of the de­bate cham­ber, meant to show the light of the five moons, now felt like the fin­gers of a giant hand squeez­ing down.

“We have read your re­ports, Am­bas­sador. They have only had slip tech­nol­ogy for their ships for ten years.”

“That’s 30 of theirs. They can do a lot in 30 years. They al­ready have dozens of colonies.”

“Poorly de­fended. Phys­i­cally they are weak. They are prone to in­jury and ill­ness. They have no personal ar­mour. Their weapons are based on ei­ther lasers or small bits of metal pro­jected through the air.”

“Our bat­tle lead­ers are pro­ject­ing we can take over Earth in less than a year,” said one of the few re­main­ing coun­cil­lors not in a uni­form.

Dav wanted to crack his own head against the coun­cil mem­bers. Drive some sense into them. They sim­ply didn’t un­der­stand. “They sing songs about war,” Dav shouted. “What does that have to do with any­thing?” “Ev­ery­thing! They wage war on each other at ev­ery pos­si­ble op­por­tu­nity then sing songs about it.” “They are weak bar­bar­ians.” “They are highly adapt­able sur­vivors and rapid breed­ers.” He pressed the flats of his hands to­gether, a hu­man ges­ture never seen on his world. “They sing songs about war.”

Dav shifted and felt the ap­ple in his pocket. There was an­other flash in the sky. It may have been light­ning or a ship ex­plod­ing in the at­mos­phere. It was difficult to tell. He won­dered if Isaa was on one of the ships in the rear, graft­ing on new limbs. He thought about giv­ing the ap­ple to the lieu­tenant. He may as well get used to the numb­ness and vi­sions they brought his peo­ple. Isaa had laughed and called it shit-faced drunk.

The hu­mans would land soon. They would cut down the an­cient or­chards of the High­lands and plant ap­ples in the soil. The young of his planet will eat them and be­come numb. The hu­mans would make them learn an Earth lan­guage, prob­a­bly English. Their priests would try to drive away the old gods and re­place them with a sin­gu­lar God who was said to be both cruel and kind.

A small piece of burn­ing metal hit the edge of their shield caus­ing it to crackle. But still the shield held.

“I’ll teach you that Earth song if you like.” There was noth­ing bet­ter to do, and they might as well be­gin to learn the lan­guage. He only re­mem­bered half the words, though the tune had been lodged in his brain for days. “Pri­vate Perks went a-march­ing into Flan­ders, with his smile, his funny smile. He was lov’d by the pri­vates and com­man­ders, for his smile, his funny smile.”

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