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by Arthur Bangs
“When I catch it, can I eat it?”
Mr. Tremblay, Executive Mission Administrator of The Pilgrim’s Progress, stared across the expanse of his mahogany desk at his Chief Maintenance Engineer. A ginger-haired man named Wilbur, the maintenance engineer had the physique of a prize-winning heifer and a way of speaking that suggested a dearth of intellectual subtlety.
“Can you what?” Tremblay asked.
“I said, can I eat it? I seen pictures of these things on TV. They look like lobsters.” Wilbur licked his lips. “I never ate a lobster before.”
“I don’t care what you do with it, as long as you capture it before we reach Arcadia. The last thing we need is for a Homardian to stow away in one of the equipment or supply containers we’re bringing down to the planet.”
“Why? What harm is one little lobster gonna do down there?”
Tremblay removed his glasses—an affectation to make him look intellectual, as his vision was perfect—and polished them with a silk handkerchief. “Homardians are capable of asexual reproduction. Allowing one to escape to the planet is the same as allowing a million. If that happens, all of the Western Alliance’s plans, not to mention the past year we’ve spent in space, will have been for nothing.” Noticing that Wilbur was glancing around the office, Tremblay smiled. “It’s late nineteenth century, Renaissance Revival,” he said, waving a hand at the wood-paneled walls and antique furnishings. “I saw to all the decoration myself. I guess you could say that I have a bit of a knack for interior design.”
“Uh-huh.” Wilbur looked at Tremblay as if he had just admitted to being in favor of AI rights. The two sat there in awkward silence for several seconds before Wilbur spoke again. “So, you said it’s in the cargo hold?”
“Hm. Well, our scans have been inconclusive. It takes too long to get a reliable scan of a room that size. However, the Homardian has been sighted twice since it escaped from the laboratory, both times in the hold.”
“Well, I suppose I could fumigate the sucker to death.” Wilbur frowned. “But then I can’t eat him afterwards.”
Tremblay shook his head, his frizzy mouse-brown hair floating on the gentle breeze of the ship’s air conditioning. “I can’t let you fumigate. The equipment stored in the hold is very sensitive and must not be adulterated by toxic chemicals.”
“No chemicals, huh? You sure?”
Wilbur smiled. “Don’t you worry, sir. I know plenty of ways to catch a critter. I’ll take care of it.”
“Excellent.” Tremblay reclined in his high-backed leather chair, and put his hands behind his head. “You know, it’s interesting that you mentioned eating it. Did you know that our first contact with the Homardians was a gustatory one?”
Wilbur furrowed his brow. “You don’t say.”
Tremblay hesitated at Wilbur’s response, but forged ahead anyway. “Three years ago, when the SS Imperious crash-landed on the Homardian homeworld, Trobastopel—minimally inhabitable, but a horrid place, by all accounts—the crew cooked and ate several of them. Steamed them, to be precise. Like you, they thought the Homardians resembled lobsters. Of course, they never imagined the things were intelligent, almost as smart as humans.”
“Almost as smart?” Wilbur asked, reaching down the back of his pants to address an itch.
“Almost, but not quite,” Tremblay said, mentally reminding himself that there could be exceptions. “Homardians are very good at adapting to different environments, and they can ‘teach’ their adaptations to each other. They’re fascinating little creatures. But as smart as us?” Tremblay gave a falsetto titter and flicked a bit of lint off the cuff of his tailored suit. “I think not. At any rate, the crew didn’t realize the Homardians’ intelligence until it was, ah, too late.”
“Too late for what? They get indigestion from eating their brains or something?”
“Ah, no.” Tremblay’s grin faded, and he wiped away a smudge on his desk with his handkerchief. “While out scouting, two members of the crew were ambushed and, ah, eviscerated by a herd of vengeful and, ah, rapacious Homardians.” He looked up to gauge Wilbur’s reaction.
Wilbur frowned and looked away. “You don’t say.”
“So, how’d they taste?”
Tremblay blanched. “How did who taste?”
“Oh! Good, apparently. Especially with some melted butter.”
Tremblay walked down the corridor, clutching in both hands the latest report from Mission Control. He had read the entire thing, or at least up to where the word “HOMARDIAN” was printed in all capital letters and followed by several angry exclamation marks.
Tremblay was in charge of The Pilgrim’s Progress’s mission to establish the first base on Arcadia, a newly discovered planet so named because of its uncanny resemblance to a pastoral Earth; a place not only inhabitable, but so perfect in every way that it seemed like something out of myth. Facing an escalating global climate crisis of disputed origin at home, the Western Alliance made the only rational decision it could under such circumstances: mass emigration to Arcadia. The importance of The Pilgrim’s Progress in ensuring Arcadia’s suitability for future colonization made the higher-ups anxious about the Homardian situation, and Tremblay hadn’t heard from Wilbur since their meeting two days earlier. That interview had done little to assure Tremblay of Wilbur’s competence, but the mission’s charter clearly designated pest removal as the engineer’s responsibility.
Tremblay entered the ship’s cargo hold with trepidation. He tended to avoid the dingier parts of the ship, preferring the luxury of his office and living quarters, and it had taken him fifteen minutes just to find the place. Had he been in the room before, its condition now would have shocked him: the cargo, normally stacked in an organized manner, was now scattered about, and a dozen electronic devices mounted on metal posts were looming over the cargo containers.
“Mr. Tremblay, sir!” Wilbur’s head popped up from behind a large container and he made a gesture with his hand that approximated a salute. Tremblay observed that he was chewing on something, the constant movement of his lips giving him a bovine quality. As he got up he tucked what appeared to be a piece of jerky into his shirt pocket.
Tremblay approached him, looking around the corners of the containers he passed. “So, ah, have you...”
“Not yet, sir. I’ve been working hard at it, but this—” Wilbur lowered his voice as Tremblay neared, “—this lobster is a crafty little critter.”
“I understand that, but it is absolutely imperative that it be captured.”
“Oh, I’ll get it. And its friends, too.”
“Take a look at this,” Wilbur said, pointing a remote control at a portable screen sitting on the container in front of them. “I set up these spy cameras,” he gestured to the devices stationed throughout the hold, “to see if I could record the lobster’s movements.”
“Where did you get all of this equipment?”
“I used my engine-uity.” Wilbur hiked up his belt and beamed like a precocious toddler who has just recited the alphabet. “I got twenty-four hours of video on fifteen different cameras!”
“Did you get any video of the Homardian?”
“Uh, no, but I did get this.” Wilbur pressed a button and a recording began to play on the screen. It showed the room from the perspective of one of the mounted cameras. “The cameras sweep back and forth, and focus on any movements detected during their sweeps.”
The camera slowly panned across the room for a while, then stopped and zoomed to the base of a wall. In the middle of the screen was a small, brown, furry creature.
Tremblay removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes in exasperation. “That’s a mouse, Wilbur.”
“Ha! Not just any mouse. Keep watching.”
The mouse scurried towards the camera and then stopped short. It appeared to be sniffing at something. As the camera panned down, that something was revealed to be Wilbur lying on the floor of the hold, asleep and snoring vociferously.
Wilbur blushed. “I’d been up late setting the cameras up the night before.”
The mouse climbed onto Wilbur’s hand, up his arm, and onto his stomach. It sat there grooming itself for several seconds, rising and falling gently with Wilbur’s deep, even breathing. It then crawled onto his chin and peered into his gaping mouth.
“I was really tired. Let me just fast-forward a bit.” He pressed a button and the mouse made a circuit of the sleeping Wilbur in fast-forward.
“Here we go,” he said, playing the video at its normal speed again. The mouse crawled off of his body and to the left of the camera, which followed its movement. It scampered over several wires running along the floor until it reached a black metal box topped with buttons and blinking lights. Stopping for a moment to sniff the air, the mouse then disappeared under the edge of the box.
“What’s that?” Tremblay asked.
“That thing controls the cameras.”
After about ten seconds the mouse emerged from the box and scurried off the screen.
“Why isn’t the camera—” Tremblay stopped speaking as he saw the answer to his question. A thin curl of smoke rose from the box, a spark shot out from underneath it, and the screen went blank.
Wilbur pressed stop and turned to Tremblay.
“What do you think about that?”
Tremblay continued staring at the screen for a moment, then looked at him and shrugged. “The mouse shorted out the box. So what?”
“So what? This video is proof of a conspiracy between the lobster and the ship’s mice!”
Tremblay stared at him incredulously. “You can’t be serious.”
“You said yourself these lobsters teach each other how to do stuff. Our lobster taught the mice how to sabotage the spy cameras!” Wilbur leaned in close to Tremblay, his voice an ominous whisper, “They might even be planning to take over the whole ship.”
Tremblay shook his head. “What you’re suggesting, it’s—it’s—preposterous! No, we simply have an inconvenient and, ah, unusual rodent problem, nothing more.”
“Then how do you explain this?” Wilbur said, presenting him with a flat, shiny, rectangular object.
“What is that?”
“A glue trap. I put this out last night, over by where the camera first spotted the mouse, to see if I could catch it. This morning, I found these on the sticky part.” He put down the trap, dipped a hand in his pants pocket and held it out to Tremblay. In his palm was a small pile of dark brown pellets. “The little varmint taunted me by doing his business right onto the trap!”
“You’ve been walking around with mouse droppings in your pocket?” Tremblay stared at Wilbur. “How does someone like you even get assigned to a mission like this?”
“I was the best man for the job,” Wilbur said, visibly offended by the question. Then, with a sideways grin, he added, “Plus my daddy’s an admiral. But that don’t matter now, ‘cause me and you gotta work together to get rid of these critters.”
“What do you mean, work together?”
Wilbur pulled his jerky out of his shirt pocket and tore off a piece, chewing meditatively for a while before answering. “I want a dozen men to go into the ducts and root out all the mice.” He paused. “And I’m gonna need more spy cameras.”
“Out of the question. The crew is already working overtime getting ready for our arrival at Arcadia four days from now. I’m not going to have them crawl through the ventilation system in search of mice! Besides, we’ve already flushed the ducts in the odd chance that the Homardian is using them.” Tremblay walked to the hold’s exit, signaling the end of the conversation. “I suggest that you return this surveillance equipment to security, dispense with the conspiracy theories, and catch the damn lobster.”
The next day, Tremblay was following the sounds of activity from the cargo hold down the corridor when he was almost bowled over by two crewmembers carrying a crate of beets.
“What’s going on here?” he demanded as he entered what he realized was the food pantry.
Wilbur stood in the middle of the room, issuing orders to two crew members. When he had finished, they saluted him and ran out the door behind Tremblay. A third crewmember remained by Wilbur’s side, writing something in a large black ledger. Seeing Tremblay, Wilbur stepped forward, blocking him from going any further. “Mr. Tremblay! Don’t worry, we got the bug problem under control.”
“The bug problem? What the hell are you talking about? You’re supposed to be taking care of the lobster—ah, the Homardian problem.”
Wilbur grasped Tremblay by the elbow and led him out into the corridor. Wilbur’s assistant, still writing, followed them.
“Sorry, Mr. Tremblay, but you can’t be here. We got a major cockroach situation right now—after seeing what they did to the high-fructose corn syrup, I feared for the safety of the ship’s crew!”
Tremblay restrained himself from shouting and merely trembled with agitation as he spoke. “I know—I assume—that you have many important responsibilities on this ship, but getting rid of some cockroaches cannot take precedence over the Homardian.”
Wilbur glanced about the room, as if he suspected that someone—or something—were listening, and then leaned close to Tremblay. “The cockroaches are in league with the Homardian, just like the mice!”
“The mice are not in league with the Homardian!” Tremblay cried. “Okay, that’s it! I hereby relieve you of your duty. Go to your quarters and stay there for the remainder of the mission.”
Wilbur recoiled in surprise, then he and his assistant looked at each other, and after a few moments, both grinned. “I’m afraid it’s outta your hands now,” Wilbur said. The assistant leafed through his ledger, pulled out a sheet of paper, and handed it to Tremblay.
The paper had Mission Control’s letterhead. “‘... for reasons of ship security ... exercise of broad discretion ... emergency powers ... hereby assigned Interim Executive Mission Administrator effective immediately’—What?” Tremblay looked up at Wilbur. “You went over my head? How?”
“The same way I got this job,” Wilbur said, his grin taking on shark-like proportions.
Tremblay shook his fists at him. “I will fight this!”
Wilbur jabbed a finger into Tremblay’s chest, knocking him back a step. “According to that memo in your hands, I outrank you now, and what you just said is insubordination!” Wilbur checked himself, and when he spoke again his voice was calmer, almost paternally kind. “Look, Mr. Tremblay. We aren’t just dealing with a rogue lobster anymore. That’s small potatoes to what we’re facing now.”
“And what is that?” Tremblay asked, still recovering from being struck.
Wilbur’s face grew grim, and when he spoke it was in measured tones, as if he were reciting a speech he had memorized in the bathroom that morning. “The crisis of our age, a war for the survival of our species. It’s the mammals against the bugs!”
“But mice are mammals,” Tremblay whimpered.
“Traitors,” Wilbur growled. “Don’t worry. We’ll take care of all of them.” His expression quickly turned businesslike. “Now if you’ll excuse us, we got a mission to accomplish. Butch, Spike?” Wilbur looked over Tremblay’s shoulder; Tremblay turned and saw two very large crewmembers standing behind him. “Help Mr. Tremblay back to his quarters. We wouldn’t want him to get in harm’s way.”
Tremblay sat on his bed with his head in his hands. It was the third day of his confinement, the day of The Pilgrim’s Progress’s arrival at Arcadia—or at least, its scheduled arrival. Wilbur’s men had blacked-out communications on the console in Tremblay’s room and Wilbur had not deigned to inform him about either the status of the mission or the Homardian search.
He looked up at the sound of voices outside his door. It slid open and the crewmember called Butch entered the room.
“He wants to see you.” Tremblay observed that Butch pronounced “He” with a reverence rarely accorded an Executive Mission Administrator, much less an interim one.
Tremblay rose slowly and peered through the doorway. The other one, Spike, was waiting for them. Tremblay looked up at Butch, who gestured for him to exit.
“How could you do this? How could you listen to that—that idiot?” Tremblay pleaded.
Towering over him, Butch exhaled through his nostrils like an angry bull, the moist heat wilting Tremblay’s hair. “He makes us feel like we’re doing something important; like we are important. You just treated us like a bunch of deckhands.”
“But you are just a bunch of deckhands,” Tremblay blurted out.
“Not any more.” Butch grabbed him and shoved him out the door.
Tremblay sat in a small metal chair in the cargo hold, which looked much different from the last time he had been there, as the containers were all pushed against the walls to create space in the middle of the room. When Spike and Butch had escorted him to the hold, Tremblay had noticed that both were carrying what looked like pistols in makeshift hip-holsters. Spike now stood behind his chair, while Butch was over by Wilbur, who was staring at Tremblay from behind a large desk. Tremblay’s desk. Tremblay observed with horror that its once pristine surface was now marred by several dents, most likely created when they had carried it down to the hold. Wilbur was dressed in what looked like an improvised military uniform, the brass buttons of his coat mismatched and the epaulet on his right shoulder sewn on crookedly. At a smaller desk to Wilbur’s right, Wilbur’s assistant leafed through a large file. Tremblay had the sickening feeling of being in a wartime military bunker.
Butch was whispering in Wilbur’s ear. Tremblay strained to hear what he was saying, but only caught the word “idiot,” to which Wilbur responded by scowling at Tremblay. He then nodded to Butch, who pivoted and walked past Tremblay, giving him a dark look as he did so. Tremblay sensed Butch station himself next to Spike.
“Mr. Tremblay, do you know why you’re here?” asked Wilbur.
“No, I don’t.”
Wilbur gestured to his assistant, who read aloud from the file in his hands. “Mr. Tremblay is here for suspicion of conspiracy with a hostile alien species against the human race.”
Tremblay looked from the assistant to Wilbur. “The Homardian? You can’t be serious! I assigned you to capture the damn thing!”
“Do you know—” Wilbur looked at something written in large letters on a piece of paper before him, “—a Dr. Smith?”
“Gerald or Elihu?” Tremblay asked.
A look of confusion came over Wilbur’s face, and his assistant leaned over and whispered something in his ear.
“Gerald,” Wilbur said.
“Yes, he’s one of the scientists on this ship.”
“The scientist who brought the, uh, Ho-mar-dee-an on the ship, correct?”
“Yes, well, this is a science vessel, after all.” Tremblay gave an uncomfortable laugh. “He made a proper request for a xenobiological study sample exemption in addition to the terrestrial samples he planned to bring down to the planet. The Homardian was to remain on the ship, of course.”
“And who granted his request?”
Someone in the room gasped.
“So you authorized Dr. Smith to bring an enemy alien aboard this ship?”
“Enemy? I think you overestimate Homardians.”
“Spoken like a true lobster-lover,” Wilbur said.
“What are you implying?” Tremblay demanded, rising from his seat. Butch placed a hand on his shoulder and firmly pushed him back down.
Wilbur resumed the interrogation. “What is Dr. Smith’s field of expertise?”
“And his specialty?”
“Arthropods? That’s like bugs, right?”
“Well, it includes crustaceans, insects, arachnids—”
Wilbur jumped up from Tremblay’s executive chair and leaned across the desk, pressing his knuckles into the dented wood and glaring at Wilbur like a peeved gorilla. “That includes lobsters and cockroaches, dunnit? And you still deny the existence of a conspiracy between the Homardian and the ship’s cockroaches?”
“It’s impossible! Cockroaches lack the cognitive capacity to conspire with anything!”
“Tell that to the corn syrup!” bellowed Wilbur. “Mr. Emmerich,” he said, addressing his assistant, “as Interim Executive Mission Administrator, I hereby charge Lemuel Tremblay with conspiracy against humanity, fraternizing with enemy species, and disrespect of the office of the Interim Executive Mission Administrator!”
The room was silent for several seconds after Wilbur had finished, only to be shattered by a sudden and frantic pounding on the door of the hold.
“I thought I ordered the crew not to interrupt my interrogations!” Wilbur sighed as the pounding continued. “Fine. See who it is.”
Spike opened the door and a scrawny, pasty-faced crewmember ran into the room. Upon seeing the expression on Wilbur’s face, he stopped abruptly and dithered just inside the doorway, looking at Wilbur with a mixture of fear and urgency.
“Yes, Mr. Schott?”
“Sir, The Pilgrim’s Progress... Arcadia... we’re on a collision course! Impact is imminent!”
Wilbur stared at Schott for several seconds as if his mind were struggling to process the information it had just received. His look of bewilderment slowly transformed into one of grim determination. “Well, at least we’re taking them down with us,” he said finally.
“Are you insane?” Tremblay turned to Schott. “What’s the pilot doing about this?”
Schott glanced at Tremblay but then spoke to Wilbur as if he were the one who had asked the question. “Captain Wilder was spraying down in waste disposal when I notified him from the bridge. He’s making his way back up there right now.”
Schott flinched at Tremblay’s exclamation, but continued to address only Wilbur. “Spraying for cockroaches as per your orders, sir.”
Tremblay tried to stand and was pushed down by Butch again. “You told the pilot to leave the bridge to kill cockroaches?”
Wilbur began to pace the room. “I needed my best men on it, and Wilder has combat experience. He can kill a Croton bug scurrying at full speed from five meters away!” Wilbur jabbed an index finger at the ceiling. “One shot!”
“What about the rest of the flight crew?” Tremblay asked.
“Mr. Russell is searching for mice in the ventilation ducts, and Mr. Casse is fumigating the transport hangar,” Schott informed Wilbur.
“So the ship is flying without anyone at the helm?”
Wilbur laughed. “What do you take me for, an idiot?” At the utterance of the word “idiot,” he narrowed his eyes at Tremblay for a moment, then continued. “Schott was manning the controls. Weren’t you, Schott?” he said, slapping the young man on the back.
Schott looked down at his feet. “Well, sir, I’m not a pilot... my training is in scanning things...”
“Scanning things?” Tremblay exclaimed.
Wilbur chuckled and shook his head. “It’s okay, son. How could you have known that this would happen?”
“How could he have known? The entire purpose of this mission was to fly to Arcadia! Didn’t it occur to you that someone would have to bring the ship into orbit when we got there?”
“This mission isn’t about going to Arcadia anymore, Tremblay! It’s about saving the human race!”
“Well, this portion of the human race is about to crash into a planet!” Tremblay turned to Schott. “Have the crew prepare the landing transports for evac—”
Wilbur cut him off. “Ignore Mr. Tremblay. The ship’s crew takes orders from authorized personnel, not traitors. Mr. Schott, get your spraygun and go down to waste disposal.”
Schott’s pallor reached cadaverous levels. “Should I notify the crew to prepare for evacuation?”
“What, and surrender the ship to the cockroaches and mice? We do that and they’ll think they’ve won! No, we’re not going anywhere till every last one of them is dead. Besides, the hangar’s gonna be off-limits till Casse is done fumigating.”
“There’s something else, sir,” Schott said.
“One of the escape pods is gone. The Homardian left the ship and took several mice with it.”
“What? How do you know?”
Schott puffed out his chest and seemed to grow an inch in height. “I scanned it, sir!”
“That crafty little lobster.” He turned to Tremblay. “I told you the mice were involved! Uh... were there any cockroaches on board?”
“None that I could detect, sir.”
Tremblay leapt from his seat and ran for the exit before anyone could stop him. As he passed through the door, Butch and Spike drew their weapons and fired. Butch missed, but Spike was right on target, hitting Tremblay in the middle of the back.
Spray insecticide is highly lethal to cockroaches when directly applied. Fortunately for Tremblay, much more is required to eradicate humans than the amount that Spike squirted on him. It did put an unsightly stain on the back of his suit jacket, though.
Tremblay shielded his eyes with his hand, watching a sunlike star rise over a tree-topped crest. It was morning on Arcadia, or at least morning where he was standing.
A shining jewel in space, conjuring half-forgotten memories of a mythic time when humanity lived in communion with nature, inspiring dreams of a return to such an unfallen state.
A place that would truly be created in mankind’s image. A place where, this time, they would get things right.
Innocent to the intentions of encroaching humanity.
It didn’t stand a chance.
Behind Tremblay was an escape pod, a shiny egg standing upright upon three metallic feet. Back on the ship he had tried to get to the bridge intercom so he could order the crew to evacuate via the landing craft in the hangar, fumigation be damned, but Butch and Spike had chased him into the pod. It had launched just minutes before The Pilgrim’s Progress entered the planet’s atmosphere, and with sheer luck Tremblay had managed to land it on a temperate continent in the planet’s northern hemisphere. He and the pod now stood in a large meadow ringed by gently sloping mountains green with lush vegetation.
He was oblivious to the beauty of his rustic surroundings, however, staring instead at a plume of smoke on the horizon. It was The Pilgrim’s Progress, its seventy scientists and crewmembers killed when the ship crashed into the planet. At the thought of all the lives lost, he fell to his knees and wept. The mission had failed, and he was alone, an insignificant little man on an alien world.
After a while he wiped the tears from his eyes and looked back up at the sky. He noticed something that looked like a shooting star, and the longer he watched it, the larger it appeared to him. Soon there was no doubt: whatever it was, it was heading straight toward him.
Tremblay screamed and broke into a panicked run, heading for a nearby copse of what looked like cypress. Before he could reach the trees, the ground shook with a thunderous blast and Tremblay, letting out a terrified yelp, fell on his face. Cowering in the grass with his arms over his head, he heard a rumble followed by a metallic crash. There was silence for a moment, and then a dull thud.
After a few minutes he gained the courage to get up. There was a shallow crater several steps from where he had fallen, and a little farther away he noticed a newly-formed scar marring the otherwise picturesque herbage of the meadow. Following the slash to its end, he saw two escape pods: his own, and the one that had just collided into his, knocking it over.
The hatch of the second escape pod, also on its side, shuddered several times. Finally, it popped open with a bang and smoke came billowing out. A sound like a hacking cough came from inside the pod.
It was a hacking cough. Wilbur appeared in the open hatch, waving the smoke out of his face. When it had cleared sufficiently, he saw Tremblay, laughed, and waved.
“Tremblay! Well I’ll be a son of a gun!”
Tremblay screamed again. He turned to run, but tripped over his own feet and collapsed in the grass. Wilbur climbed out of the pod and ran to where he lay, kneeled down and turned him over. Tremblay’s glasses were broken and he was crying again.
“Hey, what’s wrong?”
Tremblay tore the glasses off his face and threw them into the grass. “What’s wrong? What’s wrong? The crew is dead, the mission is a failure, my career is ruined, and I’m stuck on this planet with—with—”
“An enemy lobster! I know. It’s somewhere on this planet, and with a posse of mice, no less. They think they can take our promised land away from us. Well, they got another think coming.”
Wilbur took an old cowboy hat out of a bag he had brought from the pod and put it on his head. Standing up, he pulled what looked like a nineteenth-century revolver from his faux-military coat and began loading the firing chambers. In the dawn’s early light he cut a heroic figure, one that hearkened back to another frontier long ago. He looked down at Tremblay.
“I know we’ve had our differences, and you still gotta answer for what you done back on the ship. But right now, you got a second chance to make up for past mistakes, to prove once and for all which side you’re on. So: what’s it gonna be?”
Tremblay didn’t answer. He stared at the smoke on the horizon instead, wondering how he had lost control of everything and had ended up at the mercy of a madman.
Wilbur shrugged and looked at the horizon as well. “Like it or not, we got a mission to accomplish. We gotta do it for the folks on The Pilgrim’s Progress. We gotta do it for all our families back home. Most importantly, we gotta do it for the future of our species.” In a voice full of solemnity and conviction, he declared, “The Battle for Arcadia has begun, and by God, we’re not gonna stop fighting ’til the planet’s ours... and I get my lobster dinner!”
Arthur Bangs has been a lawyer and a collector of degrees; he currently teaches English at a New York City public high school. He lives with his wife and two cats in a tiny apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Many of his stories seem to feature bugs as baddies—not that he is in the least bit afraid of such things. His short story “Peace” will appear in Wily Writers later this year.