Sunday, April 22, 2012

Malstof's Mechanical Moons

* Perhaps one of the more unusual stories of my archives, this is a bit of a cautionary tale that illustrates how if you give some people an inch, they'll take a foot...or in this case, an entire moon...*

Malstof Briner was tired of building mechanical moons. He had gotten into it entirely by accident—well, sort of. Before his career, Malstof had been confined to a suspended prison, not aware of any crime he may have perpetrated to deserve it, under the watch of the all-seeing “Sentinel.” The Sentinel did not cause him any malice, but neither did it show any love other than passing by the outside of the cell every now and then, its massive tendril-laced eyes observing him with mild interest.
Naturally, Malstof was bored in his penitentiary, until one day an abrupt tear in space appeared inside his cell, and out popped a silver ball, no bigger than Malstof’s eye.
Malstof poked amusingly at it until the ball zapped him. He instantly recoiled, but then the ball spoke.
“I apologize. It was necessary to make physical contact with you to acquire your DNA, so my database could provide translation in your native language. I am in need of a life form capable of mechanical engineering and mathematical computation. Are you such a life form?”
Malstof worried that if he said no, the pretty ball might go away. So he said yes.
The ball continued. “I am from a pocket galaxy on an adjacent plane of existence to yours. Once, my planet had twenty moons orbiting it until they were disintegrated from the test runs of our military’s newest laser cannon.
“Now the water tides are erratic, and our flora and fauna are shrinking away. We must have an organism not only capable of engineering and construction, but one of appropriate size who can build new moons. My people are lacking the resources to construct, let alone launch, an entire moon into orbit. In exchange for your services, we will reward you handsomely.”
Malstof reveled in his excitement. He could be set free of this prison, taken to some wonderful place with no Sentinels or walls or boredom. He could eat delicious food, rather than the bland nutrients provided for him here. So, having no idea how to build a moon—or even what a moon was—he complied. 

The vessel led him through the dimensional tear, and fortunately for Malstof, the space around the alien planet was not too different from the air he breathed in his own world (something the alien scout had taken into account during his search). The inhabitants of the mauve-and-orange planet—which Malstof could only liken in size to that of his cell times five or six—were not afraid of him. In fact, some immediately regarded him as a savior deity, building shrines in honor of him. But, of course, the inevitable problem arose: how was Malstof supposed to build them their moons?
There were a few copper asteroids that drifted through the region, but the asteroids were too large and moved too fast for the aliens to harness for materials. They were not too large for Malstof, however, who managed to catch one entirely by chance (when it came hurtling out of space and smacked him in the stomach). As he mulled over this chunk of metal, something odd took hold of him—perhaps it was the slight difference of elements in the planet’s atmosphere, or maybe something happened when he had been transported through the dimensional tear—but he began to think. Thinking led to calculating, which led to understanding, which led to invention.
He labored until his digits were stiff and sore, but when he finished, his first mechanical moon was a lovely gizmo of cogs and pistons and plates. Once he released it into orbit, it found itself a comfortable path to circle the planet. Nineteen more moons were constructed, until the aliens’ sky was once again full of shining balloons.
But then the aliens got a brilliant idea—why stop there? There were nearby inhabited planets that only had one or two moons. Surely they would like to expand their celestial collection, or replace their insubstantial moons with impenetrable metallic orbs. So they ordered Malstof to keep building more and more, and surprisingly, the mechanical moons became highly demanded across the galaxy, particularly for overpopulated planets who wanted additional moons to dump their “excess:” trash or convicts or certain species of useless animals. Even one planet created a planetary tax, and for those who could not afford to pay it, they were given a one way ticket to the “Lunar Lots,” far away from the respectable taxpayers who deserved to live on the home planet.
Eventually, it occurred to Malstof that he was due for a vacation. In fact, retirement sounded pretty nice about now, and at least the one nice thing about his old prison was that he had never been forced to work like a slave. So he scuttled his way back to where the dimensional tear was, but he could see that by now it was healing itself, and there was barely any doorway left at all. So, despite or maybe because of his newly acquired intelligence, he figured he could break through the tear if he only had something strong and large enough to do so.
He grabbed the largest moon he had built—thus sending the planet’s tides and gravity off kilter again, most likely—and chucked it with all of his might at the tear. The resulting implosion, sucking him straight through with such force it exploded his prison cell on the other side, created quite a mess. All that Malstof could comprehend was that it became bright, and he was very cold, unable to move, and could no longer breathe. Suffocation set in quickly, but for the first time in his short life, he was finally free.


The Sentinel, known as nine-year-old Timmy Baxter, returned to his bedroom after school to a surprise, wondering how exactly his sea monkey tank—and his one remaining sea monkey—had managed to spill all over his dresser.

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