This story is in my book "The Honeycomb Comet" which is now available at Author House -- Amazon -- Barnes and Noble and other fine book sellers, search for "Roger Bourke White Jr."


By the middle of the 29th century, human life expectancies had increased from under a century at the beginning of the space flight era to nearly half a millennium. There were over 300 thriving human settlements spread across a 100 LY volume of the galaxy, roughly centered on the Solar System. A comparatively small number of humans also continued to thrive as raiders in the live HX ecosystem, where their language abilities remained distinctive and useful.

But in an HX, knowing the ropes doesn’t mean there are no surprises.

Book Nine
Chance Encounter

Chapter One: Inside the HX

Everything has gone wrong.

First, the party has penetrated deeply inside the HX even though the communication hubs were still not shaken out. It was a case of one interesting thing leading to another. Then, with our heinies deep, deep in HX, the Frizzies and the Daraks started arguing over a stupid supply box. Before I could find out why, shots were being fired. I headed for cover. That’s when we all heard the dreaded whine indicating Secbots were approaching and everyone just disappeared in their own direction!

I hightailed it down three different corridors, then ducked into the first open room I could find, and here I am. Waiting in a bare room, bare as most HX rooms are on a live HX. Such rooms in a dead HX are filled with stuff, so we know the rooms in the live ones are actively hiding things, though we don’t know how. If we knew how to make these rooms spew their guts, we’d break less and loot faster. So we’re looking hard for that secret!

I’m waiting in my bare room for someone to send an all-clear signal on Channel E, and a map to my heads-up display, the way we talked about on the Chaldor ship. But hell, it’s been at least five minutes and I haven’t heard a thing. Maybe we should have waited for the comm center to shake out? Maybe those people forgot about us? Maybe I have the channel wrong? Maybe I ran too far off?

Maybe I’m a nervous Nellie!

But I hear something moving down the corridor … it sounds like worker units: Not a threat. The workers don’t bother us, and we don’t bother them … so I’ve been told. This is my first time on an HX, so hell, how would I know?

I peer into the corridor with my fiber. There’re three HX units, more or less people-shaped, two regular and one large. They’re going into each room briefly and doing something, then coming out to do the next. They must be cleaning, but I could swear they’re looking for something! It must be my nerves.

As they go into the room just before mine, I sneak out and slip quietly by the open door to go into the room they’ve just come from. It’s another bare room, just like the one I was in.

I’d swear up and down they couldn’t have seen me! But instead of moving on to the next room, they’re coming back to the room I’m in! I click the safety off and stand rock still in the center of the room.

The two regular units move around the walls, each using an odd hand to push on places. When they do, things come out. Then they push on other places and the things go back in, leaving the room as bare as before. So that’s how these rooms are used! And I have it recorded! Gosh, that’ll be a tasty bit of information for home!

But the large unit is just standing at the door … watching me, it seems.

The regulars leave a table out and back off to the doorway while the large moves over to the table and puts some things on it. Then it too goes back to the doorway and all three units stop moving. Now all three are giving me the eye, for a total of seven eyes. Or maybe none. I can’t tell.

A few minutes pass. I could try to fry all three units, then move on. But where would I go? And there’s still no signal on Channel E. Carefully, without moving my suit, I glance at the three objects over on the table. One is colorful and sparkles.

Finally, the large moves again, to the table. It begins playing with the objects. I watch surreptitiously. They are fascinating. They are clearly entertainment, not weapons. The HXer turns to me and holds up one of the objects. Shit! It does know I’m here!

The large holds the thing up like a peace offering as it slowly, haltingly moves my way. I hear some tones on the radio in my helmet; I hear some tones floating through the air; I see some lights flashing in spectrum colors on the large’s head. It’s trying to communicate! First time I’ve ever heard of anything native in this HX trying to communicate instead of ignoring you or trying to kill you.

What the heck! I point my blaster at it, and use the suit speaker to say, “Hello”

It cringes a bit under the business end of my blaster. The radio tones and light flashes cease.

I say “Hello” again.

I hear the large imitate: “Hello.”

It puts the offering on the floor and pushes it towards me a little before backing up, saying “Hello” again every so often. I do nothing. It comes forward, pushes the offering a little closer, then backs off again. Clearly it wants me to take whatever the thing is.

I’ve still heard nothing on Channel E. I pick up the offering. It’s a pretty little sculpture inside a liquid-filled sphere with sparkles in the liquid, all set on a flat base. I put it in my bag.

“Thank you,” I say.

“Thank you,” it says, “Hello.” It goes back to the table and picks up another object. We go through the ritual as before, and I’m surprised to see that it’s a small battery—an HX power source. Batteries are great treasures. We usually have to rip apart a wall or device to get one!

“Thank you,” I say again, more warmly, as I stow it.

“Thank you, thank you. Hello,” the large says and stands very still. Thinking? Suddenly out of power? I still hear nothing on Channel E. Then it says, “Thank you, hello,” and returns again to the table.

It sets the last object on the floor between us, then instead of pushing it my way, the large unit pulls the thing toward itself, saying “Thank you” and pausing. “Hello.” A pause. “Hello. Thank you.” Another pause. “Thank you. Hello.”

“Screw you,” I say under my breath, baffled.

“Screw you,” it repeats. Man, its hearing is good! “Thank you. Hello.” Now it pushes the third object, something rectangular, toward me.

Right then, Channel E finally tells me, “Immediate rendezvous at Point Four. Repeat. Immediate rendezvous at Point Four.” I grab and stow object three with barely a glance, muttering “Thank you,” and I advance toward the two regulars, with my gun hand waving them away from the door. They slide obediently aside and I race down the corridor for the rendezvous point.

Even in the best of circumstances, talking with Frizzies and Daraks is like pulling teeth, so I don’t even try to explain what I’ve been doing with whom to them. I’ll wait for our debriefing back on the Chaldor ship, the Argal.