Non-Humans' Night Out

An Earth 2 fan fiction


Douglas Neman

"Will you be sharing guard duty with me tonight, sir?"

Walman rubbed his hands over the fire. He was wrapped in his dark green coat and black scarf, his share of the recent Grendler stash they'd taken back. "Yep, it's me, Zero. From now until morning."

"They decided to forgive you, did they?"

Walman shrugged, glad that everyone else was already in their tents so they couldn't hear this. He wondered why Zero was bringing it up.

"Well, you know, people can't stay angry forever," he said. "And it's not like I fell asleep every night."

"That is true, sir."

Walman wondered, not for the first time, if Zero really had a personality or if he was just programmed to be nice. And why did everyone think of Zero as a 'he?' Because it was a labor robot and men were the traditional laborors of old? The ones who always found themselves lifting heavy objects and putting them wherever the woman in charge told them to?

"Whatever the reason, I am glad to have you back," Zero said. "You're quite my favorite person to share the nightly guard duty with."

Walman was amazed. "Am I really?"

"Absolutely. As the only one who stays awake all the time, I believe I have developed a unique perspective on this group that the rest of you have not. I have shared the nightly guard duty with every person in camp many times, and I enjoy nights when you are on guard duty the most."

"Well...thanks, Zero!" Walman said, quite surprised by the compliment. He turned to the fire to warm his hands some more. He was still smiling when Zero raised the sedaderm to his neck and pressed the button.

"Oh, yes," Zero said as Walman slipped to the ground, still smiling and thinking pleasant thoughts. "You're quite my favorite."

Zero gathered his hidden stash and quietly moved out of camp, heading northeast.

He'd barely gone half a kilometer when a Grendler leaped out of the surrounding darkness and landed in front of him, carrying a sack. Zero wasn't surprised – he'd known the Grendler had been shadowing him for over five minutes.

The creature grunted with undisguised anger and shuffled forward. Drool went everywhere as it violently shook its head and stamped its feet, screeching in agitation.

"Will you cut that out?" Zero said. "It's so annoying."

"Sorry," the Grendler said, straightening up and wiping drool from its mouth. "I never know if you're alone or if you've got people behind you."

"Oh, please," Zero sneered. "Do give me some credit. Why are you here, Packrat? Rendezvous is precisely one kilometer from camp."

"Rendezvous is precisely one kilometer from camp," Packrat mimed in a high-pitched, sneering voice. "Oh, please, yourself. You're the one who chose that meeting place, and it don't mean squat to the rest of us. You're the only one who can measure off a kilometer precisely to the micrometer."

Zero and Packrat continued on through the woods. "So how come it's been so long, eh?" Packrat asked.

"Because the humans took forever to put my favorite stooge back on guard duty. I swear, he is so easy to sedate."

"Are you sure they won't miss ya?"

Zero snorted. "Those morons wouldn't miss me for a week, and that would only be when they finally figured out they were doing their own carrying and lifting. Even when Gaal was up to his own shenanigans on the nights that Walman was asleep, he never wondered why I wasn't there to stop him. It never occured to him that I was gone from camp completely."

"But Gaal didn't do his stuff just on the nights you were gone, did he?"

"Nah, I saw him a few times, sneaking into the TransRover to try to figure out its commands. One night I decided to play with Gaal a little bit, so I 'accidentally' made a noise to wake up True. She got up, like I knew she would, and she discovered Gaal in the TransRover." Zero let out a metallic chuckle. "They are so easy to manipulate."

"So how come you don't just take over?"

"Why bother? Right now, I've got it made. Maybe when we reach New Pacifica we'll find out who's going to serve whom."

A Terrian popped out of the ground right in front them, and Zero turned to Packrat. "You see? Precisely one kilometer from camp is where we're standing, and Kilroy got it right. So I'm not the only one."

"Oh, stuff it," Packrat said.

"You bring the goods?" Kilroy asked.

"He'd better have brought the goods, or I'm outta here!" a new voice screeched. To their left, a fat koba waddled out of the darkness to join them.

"Trust Snarko to be on time," Packrat said.

"You betcher ass, Ratboy," Snarko said, brandishing a claw. "I'm getting something tonight, I swear it. I feel lucky!"

"Open up," Kilroy said. "Let's see."

Zero held up the box he was carrying and opened the lid. Kilroy and Packrat bent over to look inside.

"Hey!" Snarko yelled, and expertly leaped onto Zero's shoulder so he could see, too. "Thanks for thinking of the short people!" he snapped.

Kilroy nodded approvingly. "Excellent," was all he could say.

"The chocolate is real Swiss?" Packrat asked.

"The cigars are Cuban?" Snarko asked.

"That's a real pilot's leather jacket?" Kilroy asked.

"Yep," Zero gloated.

"And hey, what's this?" Packrat said, lifting a fancy gadget out of the box.

"That's the dunerail's crystal fuse," Zero said smugly.

"And two boxes of alpha-glutemate!" Snarko yelled with glee. "Wheeeee-ha! This is going to be fun!"

Zero snapped the lid shut. "All right. What have you got?"

Kilroy opened a bag. "Six shock-collars. They're the ones Gaal was using. They're still in working order. Pretty useful for when you make your move to king, eh, metal man?"

"What about the control device?" Zero asked.

"That's back in your own camp," Kilroy said. "How you get ahold of it is your problem."

"Fair enough," Zero said, and turned to Packrat. "And you?"

Packrat opened his bag, obviously quite pleased with himself. "!" he said triumphantly, and held up a necklace of spoons.

The others just stared. Snarko snorted. "What the hell's with you?" he asked. "Why the hell would we want a bunch of freakin' spoons on a necklace?"

Packrat was confused. "It's pretty!"

"Then you keep it," Zero said. "Do you have anything else?"

Packrat put the spoons on, preened for a moment, then rummaged around in his sack. "Well, I got the usual suspects, some clothing, two luma lights. I got some gear sets with "Femdroids From the Nympho Planet" and "Robots of Lust" on it, both in good condition.

Zero's lights lit up.

"But best of all, I got me one of these," the Grendler said. He pulled out a rectangular grey object about three feet high by two feet wide. "A fully operational geolock box," he said.

Kilroy hissed. "That's nasty, Packrat."

"So?" Packrat gloated. "If you don't want this in anyone else's hands, you're going to have to make sure they don't get it, aren't ya?"

Kilroy just glowered.

"And you?" Zero asked the koba.

Snarko slowy lifted a key from around his neck, drawing out his answer for the full effect. "This key operates the aircraft from cargo pod 12!" he said triumphantly. "I got the inside line on where - it - is!"

The others all whistled.

"He's pulled out the big guns, this time," Packrat said.

"What else?" Zero asked.

Snarko's arrogance left him. "Well...that's it actually. I brought along two blank gear sets to get me in."

"All you brought is one thing?" Packrat snorted in disgust. "How far are you going to get with that?"

"Like I said," Snarko snapped back. "I feel lucky!"

"Then let's ante up," Zero said.

They all sat down. Zero threw in a cigar, Packrat threw in a box of food, Kilroy threw in a shock collar, and Snarko threw in a gear set. Then Snarko put on his little green cap and started shuffling the cards. "Deuces and one-eyed jacks are wild!" he said gleefully.

Packrat groaned. "You always say that."

Snarko dealt and they picked up their hands.

Packrat folded right away. Kilroy took some cards and then folded. Zero threw in a chocolate bar and Snarko tossed in the key to the plane, the only real thing he had to wager.

Zero thought about it for a second. He knew Snarko often bluffed – it always kept them on their toes – and he couldn't pass up the opportunity to get the plane. He tossed in two more chocolate bars and showed his two pair.

"Full house!" Snarko shouted triumphantly and raked in the pot with a cackle of glee.

"Damnation!" Packrat snorted. "Only Snarko would be so lucky as to show up with just one thing and start building an empire!"

Snarko lit up the cigar and drew deeply on it for a full ten seconds before exhaling, perfectly content. "Holy sweetness, I've been needing one of these for so long," he said. "Thanks for the smokes, Robby."

"Call me Robby one more time and I'll step on you."

Then Kilroy leaned to one side and ripped a mean fart, which made Packrat and Snarko both snort with laughter. Zero picked up the cards and started dealing. "No wild cards," he said. He hated wild cards. It interfered with his programming.

They played for about two more hours. They were all good enough that none of them got wiped out. Slowly, the shock collars, cigars and chocolate bars became spread amongst them all. Packrat finally bet the two gear sets with the robotic porn, and Zero watched in agitation as Snarko won them and refused to bet them again.

"We'll wait 'til next time," Snarko smiled, blowing a stream of smoke at Zero. "Let you build up your desire for them, see how crazy you get."

Towards the end, though, Snarko actually lost the key to the plane. But it was Kilroy who won it.

"Aw, man, what am I supposed to do with this?" he asked. "You guys know I don't like leaving contact with the ground. A plane's worthless to me."

"You could always call it the dream plane," Packrat said with a laugh.

Zero popped him on the back of the head. "No puns!" he commanded. "That's one of the rules."

"Bring the key back next time," Snarko said as they got up. "You may not want it, but I know these two jokers would love to get their hands on it!"

Packrat stretched as the red light of dawn began to creep into the eastern sky. "Well, boys, it's been fun. Just tell us when your wonder guard has sentry duty again, Zero, and we'll be here."

Kilroy just grumbled, then yawned. He took his two remaining shock collars, a candy bar and the key to the plane and slunk into the ground. Snarko just sat on his winnings because he was too small to cart it off all at once, and he didn't trust the others enough to leave it unguarded.

Packrat shambled off into the forest, and Zero made his way back to camp.

Walman was where he'd left him, dozing by the ashes of the now-dead fire. He bent down and applied another sedaderm, then quickly hid it as Walman blinked and shook himself awake.

"Steady there, sir," Zero said quietly. "You fell asleep again."

"Did I really? Man, I have got to stop doing that!"

"It's okay. I won't tell a soul."

"Honest? Thanks, Zero. You're a pal."

"Well, as I said," the robot reminded him as he helped him to stand. "You're quite my favorite person to share guard duty with. But I suggest you stoke the fire back into life."

"Huh?" Walman asked, then looked down at the coals. "Oh, right. Can't have people see that." He quickly fed some wood into the fire pit and stoked it up. Flames began to crackle, and none too soon.

Devon stepped out of the bio-dome, rubbing her hands against the cold and came over to warm herself by the fire.

"Anything happen overnight?" she asked.

"Just the usual," Zero said.

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