“I don’t know, Krupper, these dwellings look pretty small for creatures as large as us.”
“You said that last time.”
“Come on, Jons. You know I had to do all my work before on that crappy old machine. I told you there were a few discrepancies.”
“Discrepancies? Are you serious, Krupper?”
“Yes I’m serious. But anyway, now that I’ve got my new PA, my info is up-to-date and super-spy accurate. I know what you’re thinking, Jons. But I got this right.”
“I don’t know. Look at the doors. How would we fit through?”
“I can make myself pretty small.”
“Yeah, I guess I can, too. But do you really think everyone does that, every time they go through a door? Why wouldn’t they just build their doors bigger? I don’t know, Krupper, I think you glitched it again.”
“I’m telling you, my PA can’t be wrong. It can’t be. Do you know how much that thing cost?”
“Oh, screw your personal assistant. I’ve never trusted a computer smaller than my apartment building.”
Krupper stopped and struck a pose.
“What, are you dancing now?”
“I’ve taken offense.”
“Oh. Looks like you want to tango.”
“You are such a dick, Jons.”
Jons skittered up the dark walkway, calling back to his partner, “Look, there’s one with a light on.”
They approached the house.
Outside the door, Jons said, “Go ahead. Knock.”
“I will. In a second. Can you see anyone through the window?” Krupper craned to see over Jons.
“I can’t see anyone. Knock and get it over with. You got it right this time, remember?”
Krupper coughed. He snapped on his translator. Jons turned his on, too, and heard Krupper’s voice translated into the alien language and back to their own. “Hi. Can we use your bathroom?”
“Yuck. That’s their language? It’s like rubbing meaty bones together.”
“It is rather nasty. I’m knocking now.” He knocked.
A tiny creature opened the door.
Jons said, “What is it? A pet?”
“I don’t know. Does it understand us?”
“I don’t think it would be shrieking like that if it did.”
Krupper leaned very near the open door and spoke through his translator, “Greetings. We just moved into the neighborhood, and we thought we’d introduce ourselves.”
The tiny creature stopped screaming. It’s little eyes rolled around in a circle, and it crumpled — falling face-up onto the porch between them.
“You killed it!”
“It’s not dead.”
“Oh yes it is. Check your scans.”
Jons clicked off his translator and peered into the house.
“What do you see?”
“Nothing that looks like us. Nothing our size — it’s all fit for the dead thing on the porch.” Jons spun to face Krupper.
“I accept full responsibility.” The nasty translation popped wet stick-words out of what was serving as Krupper’s mouth.
“Of course you do, you idiot! But that doesn’t save my ass one bit. We’re a team, you phlegmburger. I go where you go. And I’ve got a good idea where you’re going next. Let’s get back to the ship.”
Back at their spaceship, and out of their disguises, Jons sat down with Krupper to review his research.
“Hand me your PA.”
“No way. Just come around the table.”
“Slide it over.”
He finally did.
Jons opened Krupper’s file on their current mission, and found the requisite sub-file called Research.
Krupper fidgeted. But not for long.
“You’re such a tool,” Jons said after a short moment.
“I am not. Why?”
“What search tab was your catch-net set for when you downloaded from Central Archives?”
“I don’t know. The usual.”
“What are they teaching you new guys? Who was your R&D instructor at the Academy, Shuul?”
“Yeah, so what?”
“Oh, Great Gas Giants of Gerthraldunal! Are we in this mess because of Shuul the Original Tool?”
“You know Shuul, huh?”
“I don’t believe this. He never told you to reset the tab, did he? Every mission you’ve researched, you’ve just run the data-grinders without a reset! Sloppy Shuul the Original Tool.”
Jons flipped the screen around for Krupper to see. He pointed at the top left of the mission order. “See that little tab up there?”
“Yeah, oh. This is why those flying, razor-tongued jelly balls hunted us down our first time out together. It’s why we were nearly stomped to death by those giant, stinky bunny-weasel things last month. And it’s why we killed that poor creature tonight.”
“Because of that?”
“Yes, you idiot.” Jons pushed the computer toward his junior partner. “What does the search tab say?”
“Alien bugs. It’s been set on that since you took over the research position. My last partner set it there. Every time you downloaded info to the mission report, you specifically requested information on the planet’s bug-life. You moron!”
“What, did you just pick some random little crawly and research it?”
“Um. Yeah. But this time I adjusted for size based on the dominant architecture of the planet. I scaled our suits accordingly.”
“So you made us into really big bugs.”
Krupper stared at his expensive computer. “Spiders.”
“We were giant spiders.” He tapped the screen.
“Whatever. We can kiss our cushy jobs at recon goodbye. I’d wager that the chief’s gonna follow standard procedure and ship us out to a listening post at the edge of the galaxy. By next week we’ll be cold and lonely, staring at the stars from some floating rock at the edge of nothing.”
“Or we could fake our deaths, stay here, and rule this world as giant spiders.”
Kevin Shamel wonders: “What if spying on up-and-coming worlds was so common that absolute goofballs were left up to their own devices to complete their jobs? What if their devices were all messed up?”