Extras and Short Stories

TEA PARTY PROTOCOL (Parts 1-4!)

By AM Scott

 

“Tell me, Lieutenant Rogaire, why does Protocol Tango Papa exist?”

“I don’t know, Captain Sazerzade. Why does this ridiculous TP Protocol exist? It’s far less useful than the other “TP” on this ship!” The young man threw his hands in the air.

Stars save me from foolish young Lieutenants. “You don’t know?” When he shook his head, Saz stared. What are they teaching Space Service cadets these days? What are they teaching Explorer candidates? “By all the Suns, how can that be? I can’t believe…” she trailed off at his questioning look and shook her head. Better get the word out to all the other trainers, or they’d have another disaster on their hands. “Well, L.T. Rogaire, sit down, and I’ll tell you exactly why Protocol Tea Party exists. You’ll never complain about it again.”

Rog sat down in the co-pilot’s chair and turned towards her, a patently fake look of patience on his slightly bovine face.

“Protocol Tea Party exists because of system Tyson Five. You’ve heard of Tyson Five?”

He shook his head and she shook hers in response. Unbelievable. “Tyson Five, the entire system, is quarantined. There are warn-offs placed in all of the systems around Tyson Five, and around Tyson Five but not in Tyson Five itself. And why, you ask?” He wasn’t, but she was telling him anyway. “Because anything getting anywhere near Tyson Five never comes out. Only one thing has ever escaped, solely due to the amazing intelligence and determination of Major Kazerein.”

Rog just looked at her.

“The Kazerein system?”

Rog shrugged. “I know Kazerein was a hero, but there’s plenty of them.”

Saz stared for a second. “Suns, stars, and planets! To not know…oh, just listen. Major Kazerein is a genuine hero of the Space Service Explorers, not an old-Earth hero. He’s one of ours. He gave his life to warn us about Tyson Five-Three.” Taking a drink for a dramatic pause, Saz said, “I hope you don’t get nightmares easily.”

Rog scowled. The story should give him nightmares but it probably wouldn’t. Hopefully, they’d send him back to the regular Space Service quickly, where he’d be perfectly qualified to hand out towels in any gym.

Saz sighed. “It started with an all-too-smart and rather spoiled little girl named Kattee, who desperately wanted a friend, someone one to play tea party with her on the new colony planet. Her Daddy upgraded her safety zone to the very best, sparkly, shiny, pink, pinker, pinkest play pavilion to try and make her happy. But she was lonely. She wanted a friend so badly.” Saz shook her head. “She got one.” (End Part 1)

* * *

Kattee scowled and stomped across the back platform. Her shoes thunked hollowly on the boards. Everybody would know she was mad. She stomped until her feet hurt.

Nobody yelled. Nobody noticed. She could make all the noise she wanted and nobody cared. Kattee plopped down with a thump at the edge of the platform. She hated it here. Tyson Five-Three was stupid. Mommy was stupid. Daddy was stupider. He made them come here. There was nothing to do here.

She stared across the stupid backyard. Dirt. There was nothing but dirt for miles and miles and miles. Mommy said it was just terra-formed, that’s why it was just dirt. But Daddy’s job was better, she said, so they’d have to put up with the dirt for a while. Nothing but their house and lots of dirt. Kattee scowled. Oh, sure, there were other houses, but none of them had any kids. The adults were big, scary men who ran over her or stared at her like she was the weird one. They ran away or talked to her like she was a baby or a puppy or stupid. They were all stupid!

If only they were at home right now, Kattee thought with a watery sniff. She’d be playing tea party with Davinda and Tylee. Or swinging with Esha and Hallen. This was so, so, so…. stupid! She dropped her head into her hands, tempted to cry some more, but Mommy said she was too old to cry like a baby, and it never did any good anyway, it just made her eyes hurt.

Stomping off the back porch to her sparkly pink safety zone, Kattee fumed. At least Daddy had upgraded her to the super-sparkly option, even if Mommy said it cost too much. Davinda and Tylee only had the basic one. Mine is so much better. “Kattee Haewkings 2-5-5-9-3-4-7-7-5-5-1. Engage Tea Party Protocol,” she said, spitting the words very clearly. Setting off the emergency alert was bad; even Daddy got mad then.

“Confirm, Tea Party Protocol?” the computer asked.

“Confirm, Tea Party Protocol.” She loved watching the sparkly pink square grow—so ‘zoning! The little square grew larger, panels unfolded, latches snapped into place, and finally, it finished.

“Tea Party Protocol complete.”

Kattee loved her Tea Pavilion. The perfect size, with a shiny, dark purple platform, sparkly pink railings all around the outside, a sparkly white table, pink and purple floor pillows, and a bright sparkly pink tea set on the table. Stepping up on the platform, she plopped down on a pillow, her fists clenched.

Yep, it would be perfect for her and some friends, if she HAD ANY FRIENDS! Picking up the stupid stuffed bear sitting next to her, Kattee threw it across the pavilion. Tears welled in her eyes. What good was the super-sparkly option when there was nobody to play with? Burying her head in the sparkly pink unicorn next to her, she cried.

When she couldn’t cry anymore, she blew her nose and wiped her face on a napkin. Climbing to her feet, Kattee picked up Princess Bear, to put her back where she belonged. But there was something there. Kattee stared. That was Princess Bear’s seat! What is that? It isn’t stuffed, or soft, or sparkly.

It was kind of pink, but not the right kind. No, it was kind of…dirty. It wasn’t shaped right, either, just a blob of dirty pink, in Princess Bear’s seat. Stomping around the table, she peered at the front of the blob. The blob had some flashing lights on it, but they weren’t pretty, no, they were green and yellow, and some were dull black. The clashing colors made the dirty pink even uglier. Walking back around the table, Kattee poked the pink blob, real fast. It wasn’t soft, or hard. It felt like the safety pod on the ship bringing them here, firm, but bouncy.

Mommy said no bouncing in the safety pod. Mommy was no fun.

Poking the pink thing harder, she kept doing it. Yep, just like the safety pod. Did it have a face? She pulled on the chair, but it wouldn’t move, it was too heavy. Pulling again, the chair slammed into her, and she stumbled back, almost falling. She slid the chair back and forth—it didn’t weigh anything now! Letting the chair go, Kattee frowned. This thing was funny.

The people on the ship said you weren’t supposed to play with strange things, but she didn’t have anybody to play with, so pooh! Tapping her finger on her chin, she looked at the super-sparkly light pink ceiling, like Daddy when he was thinking. The funny pink thing could play Tea Party with her. But it needed a name. The blob was the same color as the icky stuff Mommy gave her when she had an upset tummy. “Your name is Pepi,” she announced. “Princess Pepi.” She looked at Pepi again. “You’re not dressed right for a Tea Party. You need a dress and a tiara!” Running to the far side of the pavilion, she opened the closet.

Yes! There were new tiaras and dresses. She smiled. Daddy must have bought more, even though Mommy said no. Hah! Daddy loved her more than Mommy did! Pulling the newest, shiniest crown out, she put it on her head. Glancing back at Princess Pepi, Kattee pulled out one of her old dresses. She would be pretty, but not as pretty as Kattee.

Putting the dress on Princess Pepi, she tried to fasten it, but she couldn’t. Stomping her foot, she scowled at the ceiling. It looked stupid! When she looked down at Princess Pepi again, the dress fit fine. Fastening the dress, Kattee put her old crown on Pepi’s head. Perfect. Now they could have tea!

Swiping through the table menu, Kattee selected tea and cookies. At the cookie page, she scowled and huffed. Mommy never let her have the yummy stuff, no, she was stuck with those stupid veg biscuits. Oh, they were pink, but she knew what they were. Pooh. She scowled at the screen and selected them anyway. They were better than nothing, and she was kind of hungry. The menu chimed, and the tea and cookies rose from the delivery port in the middle of the table.

“Tea, ladies?” she asked in her sweetest voice. Imagining they all nodded and smiled gratefully, Kattee poured all of them a cup and put a cookie on each plate. She put three cookies on her plate. None of them would eat anyway—she was being polite. Polite was important, Mommy said. Pouring herself a cup, she sat down gracefully, sweeping her poofy, sparkly pink skirt underneath her before she sat, like real ladies did.

Delicately sipping her tea, her pinky extended just like the princesses on the vids, Kattee turned to Princess Uni. “How is your tea, Princess Uni?” Princess Uni smiled and nodded, and so did Princess Pea, and Princess Bear.

“And how is your tea, Princess Pepi?”

“Yummy. How is yours, Princess Kattee?” a voice said.

Kattee almost dropped her cup. Gripping it tighter, she carefully set it down on the saucer, and looked at Princess Pepi again. Princess Pepi talked! ‘Zoning! Now they could have a real Tea Party!

“My tea is very yummy. Mommy finally got the settings right.”

“I adjusted them for you.”

Princess Pepi’s voice was funny. It didn’t sound right. She couldn’t tell if it was squeaky, like Tylee’s or rough, like Esha’s. Tilting her head, Kattee looked at Princess Pepi. “Your mouth doesn’t move when you talk. How do you do that?”

“Princess Pepi doesn’t talk. Princess Pepi puts the words in your head.”

“Oh.” Kattee considered. “Can I talk like that?”

“No. Talk normally.”

“Oh. Okay.” She thought some more. “Can you talk to other people?”

“Princess Pepi doesn’t know. Other people aren’t close enough.”

“Close enough?”

“Princess Pepi’s power is low. Princess Pepi can’t transmit far.”

“Why not?”

“Princess Pepi’s power is low and the transmission protocol is challenging.”

Kattee scowled. “I don’t know what that means. Are you trying to make me look stupid, Princess Pepi?”

“No, Princess Kattee.”

Kattee was about to ask if a transmission protocol was like a Tea Party Protocol, but Princess Pepi asked, “Does Mommy know lots of things?”

Kattee nodded. “Mommy is really, really smart. Smarter than Daddy. But Daddy loves me more.” She smiled, smug.

“Will Mommy play Tea Party?”

“When she gets home.”

“When will she get home?”

Kattee glared. “Not for hours and hours! Mommy says she can watch me from her office, so she doesn’t need to be here.”

“Princess Pepi needs Mommy to play Tea Party.”

“Why? I’m not good enough?!” Kattee stood up and grabbed her teacup.

“Kattee is the best for Tea Party. But Mommy can get Princess Pepi more power.”

Sitting with a thump, Kattee put her teacup down. She tapped her fingers on the table like Mommy did when she was thinking. “If you have more power, can you get me more friends to play Tea Party with?”

“Yes.”

Kattee smiled. “Then we’ll get Mommy.” (End Part 2)

* * *

Mommy ran out the back door and didn’t close it behind her. She yelled when Kattee left it open. “Kattee!” she yelled.

Kattee waved at her and Mommy’s face changed. Uh oh. Now she was angry.

“Kattee Talia Haewkings! You know better than to use the emergency signal unless there’s an emergency. A real one.”

“But Mommy, it is an emergency! Princess Pepi needs more power, and you can get it for her!”

Walking to the pavilion with the long, sharp strides that meant she was really angry, Mommy snapped, “What are you talking about, Kattee?” Mommy stopped, pulled out her tablet and swiped rapidly. The pavilion grew taller and Mommy walked up to join her.

Kattee waved her hand at Princess Pepi. “Princess Pepi, meet Mommy. Mommy, this is Princess Pepi. Isn’t she nice? She plays Tea Party with me.”

Mommy stared down at Princess Pepi for a few seconds, then ran over to Kattee. Picking Kattee up, Mommy turned away from Princess Pepi and ran towards the steps leaving the pavilion.

It hurt. “Mommy, you’re squeezing too hard!”

Mommy loosened her grip a little but kept walking. Stopping suddenly, Mommy let her go, and Kattee fell to the floor, banging her knees. “Mommy!” Mommy didn’t look at her, she stared straight ahead.

Princess Pepi said, “Kattee, go sit down. We’ll play Tea Party with Mommy.”

“’Zoning!” Kattee bounced over to her pillow. “It’s more fun with real people.”

“Mommy has to do something first, though,” Princess Pepi said.

Mommy swiped through her tablet, going faster and faster. She did that sometimes, and Daddy said she was ‘in the zone’ just like Zema Zone, her favorite vid star. She looked at Mommy’s face. She had the ‘zoning look, sort of, but like her head hurt too. Sometimes Mommy’s head hurt real bad, and Kattee had to be real quiet, Daddy said.

“Mommy, does your head hurt?”

“Yes. But Princess Pepi needs more power.” She kept working, so Kattee sipped tea. Maybe they needed Daddy? Daddy could make Mommy better. But before she could call Daddy, he came out the back door, stumbling a little.

“Daddy! Come play Tea Party!”

“Sure, Princess.” Daddy stumbled towards her. He looked funny too. He wasn’t moving right, and his face was all scrunched up.

“Daddy, are you okay?”

“Sure, Princess. Of course, I am,” he said, with a funny smile. Stumbling into the pavilion, he picked her up. “I think we should…” He stopped and stared at Princess Pepi.

“What, Daddy? We should what?”

Smiling, he put her back down on her pillow. “Play Tea Party!” The menu chimed, and he poured tea for Mommy and him and refilled her cup.

Mommy sat down and sipped. “Yummy!”

Daddy’s assistant came through the back door. He was a nice man who didn’t run away or treat her like a baby.

“Hi, Kattee. Thank you for inviting me to your Tea Party,” he said, plopping down with a thud next to Daddy.

Smiling, Kattee poured more tea. Everybody was playing Tea Party! This was so much fun!

***

“Log entry, Major Kazerein. I have placed a series of relays in Tyson Five-Fifteen’s orbit. These should be sufficient to transmit the data from the squirt-squeals out of the system. Log end.” The relays placed, he sent the ship sunward, slowly. Well, slow for interplanetary travel, anyway. As Rein spiraled in-system, he checked the scanners, his power systems, and the triply-redundant backup power systems. He reviewed the reports again.

Tyson Five might as well be a black hole. Actually, worse than a black hole. A black hole put something out, after all, and Tyson Five didn’t. Every ship, every transmission, every probe, even high-velocity slingshot automated probes, went in and never came out. Neither did any signals.

Nor did his wife.

But Rein couldn’t think about her, or he wouldn’t be able to function, so he brought himself back to the problem at hand. Tyson Five didn’t make any sense. How could even simple radio waves not make it out? Every ship and probe stopped transmitting. As time went on, each probe quit transmitting farther and farther out from Tyson’s sun. The last probe quit at the orbit of Tyson Five-Ten, so Command mapped a long, slow spiral path for his ship from Tyson Five-Fifteen to Tyson Five-Three. They’d mounted the most sensitive scanners ever invented on his ship and on five independent drones deployed ahead of him on the spiral, each transmitting continuously back to him. If one of those drones quit transmitting, the rest automatically stopped and reversed, hopefully keeping them, and him, from doing the same. They also had auto squeal-squirts and specially designed message probes to physically return data to the SS relays at Fifteen. And if all that disappeared?

Well, it wouldn’t be Rein’s problem anymore.

He snorted and kept watching.

* * *

Rein woke with a start and glanced at the control panel. Protocol Retreat was in effect. He threw himself upright, muted the alert and scanned the reports. Probe One quit transmitting, although it had reported clean and green before quitting. Probes Two through Five, and his ship, implemented the preprogrammed reverse course. He pulled up the scanner reports for Probe One.

Huh. There was…something. Not much of something, and certainly not on a frequency anyone expected, or in any typical communication pattern. No, what the probe picked up looked…odd. His last physical, done before this mission, flashed before Rein’s eyes, and his ship’s computer confirmed it. The scanner was showing patterns of brain activity.

Human brain activity.

Visions of 20th-century comic book villains perfecting mind control flashed through his head, along with the continuing, but mostly futile, efforts of scientists to try and modify the brain patterns of those with mental illness or brain injury. With brain patterns, the few broken remains of other, advanced civilizations found on planets and moons throughout the galaxies, and the evidence presented by Tyson Five, it wasn’t a huge leap to conclude somebody or something, perfected some sort of mind control. Rein squirted the data, and his conjectures, off on an SS, and did some research.

He looked at the data from Probe One again. First, the brain patterns, then a short binary command, one used to confirm if the device was functioning. Immediately after processing the ‘alive’ signal, every power meter dropped to zero. Every single one of the five redundant power and signal systems drained, simultaneously. Rein flopped back in the pilot’s seat.

He didn’t bother to transmit his analysis. The best minds in the universe were looking at Tyson Five—they would see the data. No, they’d sent him because, one, he volunteered. His heart lurched, and Rein locked the emotion down. And two, he had a documented record of what Command called logic leaps, followed by action, saving him, and occasionally others, from what seemed like a certain disaster. Rein didn’t think of himself as anything but logical—no leaping required—but some thought his logic was some sort of magical intuition.

He smiled. A small, ironic smile. They would probably think ‘mind control’ was a huge leap.

Assuming he was right, what could Rein do to protect himself? There wasn’t much he could do to protect the ship—if power drained from the probe so quickly, without any physical contact he could find, then the ship would be drained. The…entity? might be zeroing in on the other probes right now. Did it know humans required powered life support systems to produce brain waves? Did it care? Or was it blindly searching for power of any kind or type? Perhaps a protective mechanism to prevent invasion?

There was no way to answer those questions.

Entering the search terms ‘mind control protection’ into the computer, Rein laughed, long and hard, when more 20th-century ridiculousness came up. Aluminum foil hats? Trackers in the paper currency? His laugh died off to snickers and he sobered.

His spacesuit faceplate did have a gold wash on it to protect him from radiation across several spectrums. What about the rest of the helmet? Rein looked up the specs. There were layers of various metals sandwiched through the material for the same reason. Maybe it would help. Couldn’t hurt, anyway. Pulling out his helmet, he fitted an additional layer of gold foil from his repair kit around the inside. He laughed again, but there wasn’t anything amusing about any of this.

Refining his search terms, Rein found references to various types of meditation and thought patterns to clear the mind, or assist concentration on a single concept. But if he used those methods, he couldn’t do anything but concentrate. He needed to work and protect himself. Perhaps merely concentrating on each task? Avoiding emotion? Or the opposite—embracing the emotions bringing him here, overwhelming the entity?

Impossible to know.

Further research brought up mind-altering drugs. Now, this might have some effect. If the entity dealt with normal human brain patterns, what would it do with someone with abnormal patterns? There were several drugs altering brain waves significantly. Unfortunately, all of them would also make his mission extremely difficult. Operating under the influence wasn’t encouraged.

But neither were suicide missions.

Rein logged all his research and suppositions, and sent another SS, outlining his plan of action so future explorers, if any, would know what he attempted. He doubted there would be many future attempts—they’d lost too many already. Six hundred and forty-nine people were missing, presumed dead.

Including his wife.

Suiting up, Rein loaded the drugs he wanted and made sure he could administer them by voice and manual command. Strapping into the pilot’s seat, he resumed the slow spiral orbit to Tyson Five-Three, and took an anesthetic drug, ensuring he would sleep through most of the trip. At least, if the entity took his life-support power, he’d die in his sleep. Rein snorted. As an Explorer, he would have bet every credit he had against the possibility of dying in his sleep. The expected wave of exhaustion swept him. He slept.

(End Part 4)

 

Tea Party Protocol Copyright © 2019 by AM Scott. All Rights Reserved.