It had been a rough two days. We spent some of it hearing the story of what put Zack in his Servo-chair, some of it listening to Daniel and Zack blaming each other for what had happened with the NBs and a lot of it trying to fix the problem.
The three guys, Daniel, Coal and Zack were currently clustered around his duel monitors mapping a signal to the Valarians which we hoped they would not be able to trace back to us. We didn’t want them running here to arrest Daniel and/or Zack.
All of the guy’s non-stop efforts over the past fifty-six hours had led to dead ends. Each time they thought they had the problem solved something would thwart them. They came to the conclusion the Valarians were somehow blocking their attempts. We took a vote and decided we needed to get them to trust us, to work with us instead of against us.
I was busy at the little kitchenette on the far wall preparing pasta for the crew. From the beginning, not being techie in the least, I was relegated to mess duty. Zack seemed to live on Vita Tabs and some sort of frozen processed junk I was sure a Dar-dolf wouldn’t even eat, and Dar-dolfs will eat most anything. However, finding and procuring enough for all of us to eat was a challenge from the first.
Food prep posed many challenges, not the least of which was that I don’t know how to cook. I don’t cook aboard my own ship, Moby does the cooking. When I am planet bound or in port, I eat at restaurants. Luckily I had my com-link and Moby to give me virtual backup. He downloaded a grocery list and some recipes.
The second challenge was the neighborhood we were in. I just didn’t feel comfortable on the street unarmed. I left my blaster on the ship because it is always a wise practice to obey the local laws of any planet you visit. Luminx was a weaponless society except for the peacekeepers. The trouble was nobody had told the folks in Zack’s neighborhood. They were walking around looking like arms dealers at a trade fair. Coal could carry his sidearm he was a Galactic Forces officer. Seeing the conditions as we came in, he loaned me his concealed piece which was still a Class II Blaster and would do the job if I ran into any real trouble. I just hoped that if I had to use it I could either stash the body or Coal would be able to get me out of a run in with the local law.
I had Ma-rye-a locate the closest grocer and I was off. However upon arrival, I met my third challenge, as the old saying goes, the cupboard was bare. Luminx was mostly industrial and relied on the supply ships using the now defunk beacons to navigate. Their supply chain had dried up fast.
Ma-rye-a, Sam & Cassie did some snooping around on the NET and found a black market was available in the neighborhood. Three hours later, after a scary walk down several back alleys, a meeting with a guy who I hoped had not touched anything I would put in my mouth later, and a major adjustment to Mody’s initial thoughts about what we would prepare, I was back at the apartment with a pasta dish containing five ingredients. I thought it just might be edible once the guys came up for air.
I would have gone up to the ship for supplies, but we parked the pod is a safety lot that charged an arm and a leg each time you went in and out. This really was not a very welcoming planet.
I heard Targus’ deep voice followed by the distinctive sounds of a Valarian’s smacks, pops and whistles. I turned to see Targus, Damion and Warsy, the A Factor, on the two huge gaming monitors above Zack’s desk. They all looked to be seated in a conference type room with flats before them as if they were interrupted in the middle of a board meeting. I moved up a little closer to read the translator’s captions on the bottom of the screen. It was not good news.
The NBs are very special devices. Far more unique than any planet bound person could have ever imagine.
The outer shell of the NB is electronic and has beams a ship can lock onto that point out the location of the planetary bodies in its general vicinity.
The maintenance and repair of the NB is performed by an alien race affectionately referred to, both collectively and individually, as ‘Hummers.’ Each NB has a permanent resident of one of this race.
The Hummer is a team consisting of a host and a parasite.
The host resembles the long extinct octopus of earth origin with three major exceptions. The host is much more intelligent than the ancient octopus. The host possesses three additional ‘finger-like’ appendages at the end of each tentacle, two across from one opposing. These ‘fingers’ are equipped with fine, extremely sensitive fibers which make the host a very tactile creature. The third and final difference is the host is blind. The host's ability to maintain the NB is accomplished through its advanced sense of touch and the guidance and direction of its sighted, attached parasite.
The parasite resembles the Subterranean Sea Flat of Walh. Its eyes are placed high and wide apart on extended cartilage which enable 365 degree rotation. When not ‘grazing,’ its favorite position is atop the host's head. From this location it speaks to and directs the hosts maintenance and repair of the NB
The two communicate through a series of harmonic vibrations, hence, the name Hummer.
The parasite performs its duty as eyes for the host in exchange for a meal of the host's sloughed off scales. Both profit from the partnership as well as having someone to talk to. They are a very quiet, contented species.
The Hummer is totally encapsulated in a globe which can be as tough as quillanium and contains the liquid needed to sustain the two. However, when the host and parasite ‘hum’ together at a certain pitch they can make the wall of the globe change its molecular composition to allow the Hummer to reach through the wall for the maintenance and repair needed on the NB. The Valarians, who are the only other race to have seen the Hummers, describe the above mentioned procedure as miraculous to watch. The Hummer host presses against the wall of the globe, as it ‘gives’ in to the pressure and the tentacle emerges outside. The globe's wall creates an air and watertight seal around the appendage, keeping the life sustaining liquid in, but still allowing the host to maneuver well enough through the parasites direction to complete its mechanical task. When the appendage is withdrawn back through the wall the hole effectively seals again.
The maintenance of the NB is conducive to the well being of the Hummer. They seem delighted with the vibrations that are set up by the NB when a ship activates it. Each encoded beam creates a slightly different vibration. The Hummers who inhabit NB's on average, live twice as long as their planet bound counterparts.
As it turned out the Valarians had not shut down the navigational beacons, the Hummers had and they were the ones stopping any further interference with their equipment. Each time, our crew or the Valarian techs tried to repair the problem, the Hummer stopped them from the inside. The Valarians were at a total loss. They set up the beacons to operate independently. They had no idea how, or if, the Hummers came to the realization of the virus as individuals or somehow communicated with each other to shut down the system.
“The Valarians put the Hummers in the NBs to begin with. Why can’t they just tell them to let us fix it?” Daniel asked.
It is fun to watch a Walhmite roll their eyes. They are usually much more overt with their body language. Targus rolled his eyes. “The Hummers have been in the NBs so long they have developed their own separate dialect and the Valarians can’t seem to get their point across.”
“If we could just get the Hummers to work with us, they could put the beacons back in service,” Damion added in a tone that let us know they had been as frustrated as we were in trying to repair the beacons from their end. “It’s beyond comprehension that we have something this important being controlled by a species we can’t communicate with.”
I was jumping up and down at this point from behind the three in front of the monitors, waving my raised hand like an anxious kid in a classroom.
“Yes,” Targus said, patiently looking straight at me. “What is it, 3su?”
The three heads in front of me swiveled around to stare my direction. I gave them all a confident look.
“I know someone who can talk to the Hummers.” I crossed my arms and smirked at them. This was going to be the last time they put me on mess duty. Now I was a valuable player in this game.