“One fast beer and that’s it, Pete.”
“What’s the hurry, Dave? Ya got a hot date?”
Pete didn’t have a clue. Sure, I worked with him at the factory—mindless work that just needed a strong body. But after work, well, yes, I did have a hot date, so to speak. “Like I could get a woman to pay any attention to me on our pay.”
Pete laughed and smacked me on my shoulder. “You got that right.”
At the bar, Pete called out, “Two cold ones, Danny.”
Danny waved and pulled two beer glasses down from the shelf. We stopped in here every day after work. He knew our routine. While Danny pulled our drafts, Pete stopped to joke with one of the guys we worked with. I went to our stools and sat down. I checked my watch. I could spare about ten minutes, no more. That’s when Pete walked up and swung a leg over his stool.
“Checking your watch? Holy crap, Dave. This is the highlight of our day. After this I get to go home to my shrew of a wife and eat her crap cooking and watch boring TV. Enjoy yourself a little.”
Danny placed the beers in front of us. We picked up the glasses, foam still sliding down the outside, and drank. I will admit there’s nothing like the taste of a cold beer after work on a summer afternoon.
“Ahhhh,” Pete put his glass down. “That hits the spot.” He looked at me. “You doin’ anything for Easter?”
I was but I couldn’t tell him that. “Nope. My sister asked me over for ham dinner but I don’t think I’m gonna go.”
“You should go, man. Don’t sit around the apartment all day doin’ nothin’.”
He looked like he was going to say something about Brenda but changed his mind and picked up his glass and drained it. Pete waved at Danny. “Nother round.”
Danny waved and I checked my watch. I really had to go. “Not for me, Danny.” I drained my glass and stood up. “See you tomorrow, Pete.”
Pete spun around on the stool. “You’re really leaving?”
“Yep. Gotta go. See you at work.” I hurried out the door and turned left. Three building’s down I turned into the alley and hurried to the end, turning right, then left again. I was at a warehouse. I put my palm to the hidden lock and the door opened.
“Bout time.” Sheila was using her tentacle with the ultra-fine fingers, to work a lock. “If we don’t finish this in time the whole planet is going to blow.”
“Yeah, yeah.” I slipped work gloves on and tapped the device in front of me. A pleasant chime sounded and the whole thing opened up. The interior glowed green from the power source. I’d been working on this thing since Brenda died. Sheila had felt bad. It was her ship that had killed my wife. She decided to pay me back by offering to teach me some new tech. Something I could sell, later, making me rich and helping Earth at the same time. It didn’t make up for Brenda, but it had been an accident so I took the offer.
Problem was her people didn’t think she should have done that. They had issued an ultimatum. Wipe my brain or they’d wipe out the Earth. Seemed a little drastic to me but they had their own form of the Prime Directive. We were finishing the gadget in front of me—a power generator that could power a house, a car, a ship, anything. No more reliance on fossil fuels or radioactive elements.
Sheila finished working the lock and handed it to me. “Your turn. Once it’s done, you can plug the generator into the shield and the Earth will be saved.”
I put the lock on the power coupler and closed it up. It only took a moment to walk it over the car-sized shield generator and plug it in. Sheila came up beside me on her walking tentacles. “You ready?”
I nodded, my finger over the start button. “What if it blows up? You said you’d never built one of these with this particular power source.”
She moved her other four tentacles in her form of a shrug. “Well, then they won’t have to do it for us then, will they?” Shiela had a wicked sense of humor.
I punched the button. The shield generator began to hum. The indicator lights flashed red, yellow, then green. The hum hit a higher pitch and that was it. No explosion, no whump. “Is it working?”
“Give it a second.”
We waited. A minute later Shiela’s communicator buzzed. “Cvr, Zhlh.”
In English, the voice I recognized as her Captain said, “What have you done!?”
Shiela grinned. “I made them a shield so you couldn’t blast them to rubble.”
“You did what?”
“Yeppers. This is a sovereign planet. You can’t go around blasting them because you feel like it.”
“You gave them tech! The Prime Directive clearly states…”
“Nonsense,” she interrupted. “They had all of the materials already on the planet. I just showed one person how to assemble it.”
The next transmission was garbled. Then the Captain said, “You have to surrender yourself.”
“Have you seen their oceans? I’m starting a bed and breakfast somewhere around their island of Fiji.”
“The oceans here are full of trash.”
“Not for long. That’s what they’ll be using as a power source.”
“Zhlh, come home.”
“Good bye, Captain.” She turned off the communicator.
“A bed and breakfast?”
“Sure, I’ll get word out. We love visiting other planets. You all might as well get in on the travel rush.”
I pulled off my gloves. Things were going to get interesting on Earth.