Some men carry their nicknames with a sense of chagrin, others with weary tolerance. Captain Jerome “Stoneface” Tucker bore his with pride.
His father had been a no-nonsense military man, as had his grandfather — and that man’s father before him. All had served bravely on the battlefields of distant wars fought long ago, and they’d delivered sagas of heroism and resolute courage down the line to their progeny.
It was now time for Stoneface Tucker to carry their legacy forward, onto this unexplored mudball of a planet known to him only as Gliese 518-5B.
This was serious business, indeed.
He bent over and addressed the single small alien who stood before him at the gate of the planet’s sole city.
“My name is Captain Jerome Tucker. We claim your planet for our own use. If that’s not acceptable to you, then we’ll blow you all into dust.”
The Gliesian representative buckled over in a paroxysm of laughter. He fell to his knobby knees and wrapped numerous tentacles around his heaving belly. Then he rolled on the ground, screeching loudly. Tucker tapped on the translator pod floating next to him, momentarily unsure if it was functioning properly.
“You’re killing me!” the alien said. “Please have mercy, sir!”
Tucker stared blankly at the fat little creature, then turned to his second-in-command. “What in hell . . .?”
The alien picked himself back up. “Very sorry for losing it there, Captain Tucker. I meant no disrespect. But you’re a very funny man! We hold humor in the highest regard here — we worship it, in fact. Sadly, we produce very little of it ourselves, being as we are a rather gloomy, dour race. Wit is a very sacred thing to us.
“But where are my manners? My name is Bowg, the Mayor of this humble city. Welcome! Come, let me show you some of our hospitality.” He began chortling again as he led Tucker and his aides through the gate.
# # #
As victory banquets went, this one was nothing to write home about. So thought Stoneface Tucker, squeezed in between the Mayor and a corpulent Gliesian princess with long eyelashes, who couldn’t seem to keep her tentacles to herself. He passed his bio-scanner over the gray mush that sat in front of him, which registered the food as safe to eat. He spooned some into his mouth. It was awfully bland stuff.
“This is awfully bland stuff,” he said.
Bowg leaned back in his seat and laughed uproariously. “So it is! So it is! Tahahahaha! Captain, you slay me.”
“We need to discuss our development and exploitation plans, Mayor. Is there anything worth anything on this planet?”
Bowg hooted and lost control of himself. He fell forward, his face plunging into his mush-bowl, then snapped back against his chair and let loose a howl. “I love this man! He’s a god, a living avatar of comedy. A paragon, an exemplar if ever there was one!” He brought several tentacles holding several napkins to his face to wipe the tears and mush from his several eyes. “You simply must join us in our worship service tomorrow. I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer!”
Tucker looked down at the Mayor and grunted. That, he thought, might be a good venue to inform the general population about their new status. “Whatever,” he said.
Another outburst of braying laughter ensued. It continued on and on — and was still going on when Captain Tucker and his retinue finally left the banquet hall.
# # #
The ringing of chimes and the clashing of cymbals accosted Tucker’s ears as he walked at Mayor Bowg’s side into the capacious temple. According to Bowg, the entire population of the city had gathered here this morning.
Tucker turned in a slow circle, viewing the many thousands of Gliesians in attendance. They filled every nook and cranny in the place, including the high mezzanines that encircled the enormous room. Atop an altar at the front end of the temple, a robed priest stood chanting, his tentacles tracing figures in the air around him. Tucker glanced at his translator pod, but it only registered question marks.
“What a bunch of crap,” he muttered.
Mayor Bowg snorted and doubled over, spraying viscous fluid from his bulbous proboscis. “Please wait, Captain. Please! Don’t waste it. Come up to the altar, and then let your testimony fly free.”
Bowg dragged Tucker forward until he stood by the priest at the head of the room.
“You people are now under our jurisdiction,” Tucker announced.
A high-pitched roar erupted from the crowd. The ones nearest to the altar fell to the floor, overcome by fits of raucous laughter.
“I can assure you, this is no joke!”
The roar increased in volume. Numerous Gliesians tumbled from the mezzanines. The sound of their bodies splatting against the unyielding stone floor sickened Tucker.
“Stop this! In the name of all that’s decent, stop it right now!”
The laughter increased to a deafening level. Tucker clamped his hands over his ears. That only made the Gliesians hoot even louder.
“Look, I’m being absolutely serious about this . . .”
Tucker couldn’t block out the piercing shrieks and chitterings, the guffaws and unrestrained ululations that resounded throughout the temple. He squeezed his eyes shut. The cacophony reached a crescendo, then slowly tapered off. At long length, there was only silence. Tucker opened his eyes and looked out at thousands upon thousands of inert Gliesians.
Deaders all, expired from excessive worship.
Captain Jerome “Stoneface” Tucker walked toward the temple exit, stepping carefully over the Gliesian corpses that littered his path. Once outside, he sighed deeply and headed for the lander. It was easy enough to compose his forthcoming message to Fleet HQ: Gliese 518-5B has been conquered. He suspected his detailed follow-up campaign report would be much more difficult to write.
Perhaps some embellishment might be called for.
At least he’d comported himself with dignity. His forefathers would have been proud of him for that — if nothing else.
– Gary Cuba
Gary Cuba’s work has appeared in Jim Baen’s Universe, Flash Fiction Online, Universe Annex (Grantville Gazette), Abyss & Apex, Andromeda Spaceways and many other publications. Visit http://www.TheFoggiestNotion.com for more of his unique work.