The wasted places were home for me. I had set up a small station with all the comforts of home in it and kept it private and secure with plenty of orbiting defensive, and offensive, satellites. I was retired at thirty-seven, having had some luck in my trading career, a couple of years ago, making a killing in precious metals and grain trades that were on-going and still very lucrative. And a particularly powerful weapons contract, developed out of my deceased father's research and development company, had yielded my personal wealth far more from it than the other two developments combined. I would live a long and luxurious life here, or somewhere else, if I changed my mind, but I foresaw nothing immediate in a decision of that magnitude.
"Blast sensors are active in Pena sector, Sarent. I dispatched a couple of search and destroys to the area."
I'm Sarent. The boss. That was Malla speaking. She's my one and only companion on this little orb and a synthetic, though, you could never tell. She is as perfectly made as any humanoid, but far tougher. Looks, smells, feels exactly like one except she is perfect in almost every way, physically. I had her made that way. Cost a fortune, but I could afford it, these days. It was like penny candy was, now, from years ago, in my pocket. Just change to me. Yes. I'm that wealthy. I could always have afforded it before my luck, though, I never wanted one, a synthetic being, back then, but that is another story, and a bit on the boring side.
"Bring it up on screen," I told her, going to Malla sitting at her console, where she monitored the planetoids security and various functions of our home. "Let's see who's knocking on the door."
"It could be someone from the Earth. They've started taking exploration seriously, these days, you know."
"You never read my reports, do you?"
"Not unless I'm really bored," I smiled, looking into her beautiful aqua eyes, then quickly gave her a peck on the cheek as she slowly turned away, not really smiling at me, but not angry either. "I'm kidding, I read them, but not religiously."
I saw something coming into view on three of the sixteen screens in front of us. A smallish black ship.
"It is from earth," Malla said. "See their icon? It's their flag they put on everything. That country is the most serious about space travel. They call it Australia. They're the leading tech country on their planet, these days, and the wealthiest."
"Are they aggressive?" I inquired.
"Not militarily, although some big country north of their location tried to take them over, a few years back, according to all the intelligence I can gather on the various peoples, there. The Australians transformed their little continent into a very lush, green world, and created renewable resources the whole world wants. The huge nation north became more and more aggressive and finally attacked. The Australians reduced that attacking dictatorial country, that was twice as large as them, into a wasteland and depopulated their land to about seven percent of what it used to be like. They'll never recover."
"I don't like the sound of that..."
"They were attacked. They were just responding and protecting themselves. Any nation would. Apparently, nobody knew how dangerous their weapons were. All those nations down there on earth do a lot of things in secret. Anyway, they built themselves something that incinerates anything that isn't mineral, to a depth of several ett's below the surface of the soil. Pretty nasty toy, if you ask me."
"Could that ship have a weapon like that?"
"I don't know. They had them on those short range space planes, they built. Conceivably, they could have them on their short range ships, like this one here, but I don't think it can hurt us. Our protection is too good."
I thought for a moment or two and told Malla, "Let's not take any chances. Put a sinc-tail on that ship and at the slightest sign, get rid of it."
"I already have search and destroy on them."
"I know, but if they have something other than a burn weapon on board, I want it destroyed on an atomic level."
"It's a one man ship. The sensors are showing nothing dangerous."
"I don't care. It's better to be prepared than sorry."
"It's a woman, on board."
Malla was looking at me. I focused back on her face from the screens.
"And?" I asked.
"You might like her."
"She might kill me, too. Watch her," I said, putting a finger in front of her nose. "I don't care if she's prettier than you and wants my body for her own personal toy, watch her, Malla."
"I will," she said, as I stood up straight, her eyes not leaving mine, I sensed, even though I was staring at various screens.
"What has made you so suspicious?" she asked me, with a deeply inquisitive and disaproving tone to her voice. "You don't believe anyone is friendly, do you?"
"I've never found anyone that's trustworthy, except you, and you know how I feel about machines."
"Yes, I know. We're all corruptible. How many times have you told me that? But I'm loyal. I always will be. You know it's programed into me."
I didn't say it, but I thought, Yeah, and it can be programed right out of you, too. She was right, when it came to being safe, I was very suspicious about anyone or anything new. In making my quadtsillions of money, I had made some serious enemies.
Two hours later, the ship was orbiting my little world. Earth people call it Ceres, I was told, but it has no name as far as I'm concerned other than home. Then that ship began a descent path. We calculated her landing, or, the active computer calculated it, and discovered it was headed straight for us and our atmosphere fog on the surface, where I live. This might be interesting or deadly, I thought. And with those thoughts, suited up in the latest invincible attack gear our world's have created. Where I come from—and it's a very long ways from earth, and still quite a ways away from where I was, currently—you always used the best you could afford. I wanted privacy and this woman, whatever her agenda, was not a welcomed guest. I wasn't going to take any chances with my personal protection.
I waited and she came in very slowly to the surface, I saw, standing behind Malla, watching the screens.
"She doesn't seem at all aggressive, Sarent. Should I invite her in? We have language converters."
"No. Keep the destruct sequence on and let her do whatever she's going to do. If there is the slightest form of aggressive behavior, reduce her to atoms," I replied and I meant it. I wasn't taking any chances from a race that annihilated billions of their own.
Malla didn't reply. I was concerned she was being more than hesitant.
"Malla, go to Ecarnt mode, overide, Sarent R., order 3541."
"Yes Sir," she replied.
She was a very basic robot, now, military, but not independent of thought, and just to be certain where she was in military mode, I asked what her orders were: "Destroy intruder at slightest provocation of aggression," she replied.
"Correct. Stay in current mode until ordered otherwise. Confirm."
"Malla unit to stay in Ecarnt 3541 mode until ordered otherwise by Sarent R."
"That is correct," I mumbled watching the sleek little black ship hover in over the cracked ground of useless stone.
"Why is she here," I wondered aloud.
"They're moving out from Mars, exploring," said Malla.
I knew that but why this planet? This spot?
As if hearing my thoughts, Malla again added, "They're mapping their solar system. They must have seen our complex."
I didn't reply but knew she was right, still watching the movements of that sinister colored though sleek looking craft.
It slowed to half a peenal but still came within a few hundred yards of one of our atmosphere plants. In time, this small world would have its own atmosphere and would sprout plant life. I would eventually bring in comets for oceans and lakes, a small but dense asteroid to orbit it for a moon, and begin the process of making a world out of this stone in space. I didn't like this intrusion at all or the interruption it presented into my affairs.
Then the black ship stopped.
"I'm going out to meet it. Don't forget your orders, Malla," I said, and donned my helmet as I walked to the outer hatch. I pressed the button to open the wide hatch and the cool air of the immediate, newly manufactured atmosphere, made out of the frozen gases of this world, well below ground, rushed in and mingled with our cleaner, purer, filtered atmosphere. I noticed new read outs in the helmet but paid them little attention as I switched on the sphere that would protect me from weapons far larger than my own hand held beam gun. This was recon and my senses were on high alert. I brought up my two fist-ed rifle and walked out to the tiny dot of her ship, in the distance, noticing the landing gear had just dropped. With my eyes, I adjusted the magnification with the heads-up and saw a face staring out at me from one of five forward facing windows of the craft. It was indeed feminine and very dark in color. I was almost there when the woman exited the ship of hers and took a few slow steps, forward. She had no helmet on, trusting my judgment not to fire.
Malla was right. I liked the figure of her right away. She was as well endowed as any synthetic, and almost as beautiful as Malla herself, but in an almost black skin tone, with the whites of her dark eyes and every feature of her ebony face beautiful in concept and execution of growth. I couldn't help but wonder if these explorers, these earth people, if that's what she was, were chosen for their beauty and/or engineered that way from birth, as our early explorers were. But I doubted it. From the reports of Malla, I didn't think they were that advanced in genetics, though she said they had made strides. But that was immaterial and moot at this point. This woman in her tight, white, flight suit was a gorgeous thing. I knew I'd feel something if I had to kill her.
She stopped moving and smiled. My disposition melted away from my mind as if I were an adolescent in love with his instructor. I took a firmer grip on my weapon and brought it to my left shoulder. I wouldn't let beauty distract me more than it should, but suns, she was a goddess in every way. But was she treacherous? I didn't know.
"Hello," she greeted. Her smile continuing to melt away the glacial cold of my convictions and suspicions. What was she, this dark company, some kind of lascivious being assured of dissolving the harshest of alien hearts—like mine? Truthfully, I wanted to tear away my helmet and suit, drop my weaponry, and take her in these arms, and ravish her right there on the hard, cracked, rock like an animal without dignity or any kind of civilized behavior. I had never felt like that before and resisted with all my might.
"I am an emissary from the third planet from the sun. My name is Elaine."
"Yes," I spoke, "I know." I had been downloaded with Australia's language on the walk out to her ship and all the pertinent information Malla had retrieved from this earth creatures computers. "Why have you come to my world uninvited?"
Her mouth began to form a reply but in mid-formation of her first word, her lips changed in form from a 'Wha' attempt to a 'We' sounding, I noted in that instant.
"We are exploring our galaxy. We saw your buildings and the atmosphere on this planetoid and wanted to meet their maker and start a relationship."