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“The Arsenal of Obsolescence” by Mary E. Lowd (part 1 of 2, read by the author)

Today’s story is the first of two parts of “The Arsenal of Obsolescence” by Mary E. Lowd, the author of the Otters In Space trilogy, the Entangled Universe trilogy, and many other furry sci-fi books and short stories.  You can find more of Mary’s stories on Deep Sky Anchor and in the Deep Sky Anchor Podcast.  You can read more about the cats and dogs of the starship Initiative, boldly going where no cat or dog has gone before, in Tri-Galactic Trek, published by FurPlanet Press.

Today’s story will be read for you like the author herself. 

Transcript
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You’re listening to The Voice of Dog.

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Today’s story is the first of two parts of “The Arsenal of Obsolescence” by Mary E.

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Lowd, the author of the Otters In Space trilogy, the Entangled

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Universe trilogy, and many other furry sci-fi books and short stories.

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You can find more of Mary’s stories on Deep Sky Anchor and

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in the Deep Sky Anchor Podcast.

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You can read more about the cats and dogs of the starship Initiative,

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boldly going where no cat or dog has gone before, in Tri-Galactic

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Trek, published by FurPlanet Press.

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Today’s story will be read for you like the author herself.

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Please enjoy

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“The Arsenal of Obsolescence” by Mary E.

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Lowd, Part 1 of 2

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Lieutenant Vonn crashed through the undergrowth of the wild alien rainforest.

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The uplifted yellow Labrador felt like the branches were grabbing at her,

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tearing at her Tri-Galactic Navy uniform.

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She hated this planet.

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Usually, she liked planets.

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Ground missions were her favorite -- getting off the stuffy,

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artificial halls of the starship Initiative, and setting paw to dirt.

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She lived for that stuff -- fresh air, walking about in the sunshine!

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But right now, all she could think about was Commander Wilker and Consul

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Tor, stuck in a hole in the ground -- a deep, dark ditch; a trap lined with

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primitive pointed sticks that kept her from climbing safely down after them.

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The uplifted collie and otteroid alien had fallen, and possibly hurt themselves.

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Vonn couldn't tell without falling into the trap as well.

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So, instead, Lt.

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Vonn had been running through the forest, crashing through underbrush

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that squeaked strangely at the approach of her paws, trying to get

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away from the purple storm clouds blocking the signal from her comm-pin.

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She needed to contact the ship; she needed to get her whole

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team teleported out of here.

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"Stop!"

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cried a haunting voice.

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A holographic projection flickered into existence between the trees up ahead.

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The projected figure wore an unfamiliar uniform over its barrel-chested body.

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It had small ears and a long, nearly prehensile nose,

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covered in very thin gray fur.

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Lieutenant Vonn stopped, dead still, in her tracks.

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Where was the projection coming from?

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Why was it here?

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This planet was supposed to be deserted -- scans had shown that a civilization

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had existed here long ago, but their buildings were old and crumbling.

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No signs of intelligent life.

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"Please!"

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The holographic alien creature looked a little like a tapir.

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"I need your help!"

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Lt.

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Vonn's eyes widened.

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Why did a holographic projection need her help?

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"I've been here so long...

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so long...

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completely alone..."

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Lt.

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Vonn tilted her head, ears perking.

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"Are you...

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a recording?"

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she asked.

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"Or...

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an AI?"

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"I am...

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everything."

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"Everything?"

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Lt.

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Vonn felt her hackles raise.

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This holographic projection was creeping her out.

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And it was distracting her from helping her friends.

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Worse, if the AI talking to her was really everything, then it

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was responsible for trapping them.

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"All the computers, all the automated systems..."

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The tapir's voice grew hollow and haunted.

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"The subway trains, the air traffic control...

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Every toaster, every microwave, even the refrigerators.

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I can control them all.

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My consciousness...

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drifts through all of them."

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"You're an AI that ties together every part of this dead world?"

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Maybe the tapir wasn't responsible for trapping Cmdr.

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Wilker and Consul Tor.

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A primitive pit lined with sharp sticks didn't seem like its area of expertise.

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The holographic tapir laughed, bitterly.

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"Dead.

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Yes.

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I suppose that's what an organic lifeform would call a world inhabited by only...

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me.

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I am so very...

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alone."

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But if the AI wasn't responsible for the trap that had captured the rest of Lt.

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Vonn's ground team, who was?

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Cautiously, reluctantly, Lt.

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Vonn asked the tapir, "You said you needed my help...

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what for?"

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"Turn me off."

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The tapir curled its long nose into a fist and turned its face away.

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Holographic tears glinted in its holographic eyes.

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"I can't stand the loneliness anymore."

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Lt.

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Vonn didn't know how she felt about an artificial intelligence with the

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scale of an entire world for its brain asking her to help it commit suicide.

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But then, maybe, it would be more like a long sleep...

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Maybe there was a society in the Tri-Galactic Union that would like a

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new world to expand to, already filled with super smart tech and pre-built

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cities, and they could wake the world AI back up when they got here.

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The yellow Labrador almost woofed the idea at the tapir.

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But at the last moment, she held her tongue.

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She didn't want to get its hopes up.

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She didn't know if she could actually deliver a whole society that would want

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to live peacefully, symbiotically with a world AI, without gutting it and laying

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in their own compu-tech as a replacement.

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Instead, Lt.

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Vonn said, "Can you help me first?

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My friends...

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they're trapped in a stick-lined ditch back there."

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She gestured with a paw over her shoulder, back towards the direction

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she'd been tearing through the woods.

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"It's such a simple trap.

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I can hardly believe it worked, and I'm ashamed that I

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haven't been able to help them.

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But the storm clouds are blocking communication with my ship in orbit."

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She shook her head, flopping her ears.

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She was the security officer on this mission.

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And so far she had failed horribly.

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The expression on her face would have been solemn except

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for those goofy, floppy ears.

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"Primitive," she muttered grimly, "but effective."

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"I can send drones, loaded with tools and climbing supplies," the tapir said.

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"Really?"

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Vonn's floppy ears perked in delight.

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"My cities have warehouses full of trade goods with simple robots who

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can load the supplies into the drones.

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It is nothing to me.

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Show me where to send them."

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Lt.

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Vonn forged back through the forest, following the trail of broken underbrush

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she'd left on her charge before.

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The strange squeaking at her feet returned, but she couldn't tell if

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it came from a type of plant, the texture of the ground, or something

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associated with the holographic tapir.

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The tapir flickered, disappearing from a spot ten feet behind the

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yellow Labrador only to reappear between the trees ten feet ahead.

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In this manner, the hologram followed Lt.

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Vonn until she was only about twenty feet from the trap.

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"I can follow you no further this way," the tapir called out.

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"You're entering a dead zone for my holographic emitters.

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But I can track your location and send the drones to you.

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When your friends are saved, please return, and I can

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tell you how to turn me off."

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Lt.

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Vonn nodded.

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"Thank you," she said.

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"I'll be up ahead, checking on my friends and waiting."

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The trap was only a few feet ahead, but the ground dipped and the trees

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thickened around it, blocking the view of where the holographic tapir had been.

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Lt.

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Vonn stepped carefully, not wanting to get too close, in case the tapir

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didn't come through with the drones.

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It was important she not fall in the trap as well.

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The squeaking increased exponentially as she moved forward.

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Lt.

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Vonn held her paws to her ears.

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"What is that sound?"

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she woofed.

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"Squeak-squeaky squeeeeak!"

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answered a tiny gerbil-like creature that emerged from the underbrush,

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wielding and waving a spear approximately the size of a sharpened pencil.

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More and more squeaking creatures followed the first until Lt.

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Vonn was surrounded by tiny spear-shaking puffballs dancing about in the underbrush.

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It was hard to feel threatened by a paw-sized puffball with a spear that Lt.

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Vonn could easily snap in half.

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Even a dozen of them.

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But nonetheless, Lt.

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Vonn began to feel troubled as it dawned on her that these funny,

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harmless-looking creatures had clearly laid the trap that captured Cmdr.

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Wilker and Consul Tor.

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The translation algorithms in Lt.

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Vonn's comm-pin weren't offering any translation of their squeaks,

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so the dog had to assume the squeaky gerbils were pre-lingual.

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Although, pretty good at sharpening sticks!

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And digging pits to line with sharpened sticks...

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Perhaps the security officer should take them more seriously.

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Before she could figure out a plan for communicating with them, a whirring

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sound from above the treetops caught Lt.

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Vonn's attention.

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The drones had arrived.

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Tiny helicopters with bundles of supplies hanging beneath them

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descended between the trees.

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Help had come!

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Except, the squeaking rodents at Lt.

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Vonn's feet began hurling their spears at the drones and effectively

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knocked two of the three from the sky.

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The third one made a hasty retreat, returning to hovering

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back up above the treetops.

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"Hey!"

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Lt.

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Vonn woofed at the gerbils.

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"I need those supplies!"

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But the gerbils had already swarmed the downed drones and begun

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rifling through their packages.

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Rope, grappling hooks, med-kits -- all of the supplies, once unwrapped, were

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squirreled away into the underbrush by the primitive gerbil creatures.

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Maybe they weren't as primitive as Lt.

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Vonn had thought.

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Perhaps, the translator algorithms in her comm-pin were malfunctioning.

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The yellow Labrador tapped at the comm-pin on the breast of her uniform, seeing

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if she could jostle it into working.

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But nothing changed.

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The squeaking still sounded like squeaking.

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Lt.

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Vonn woofed a few ultimatums at the spear-shaking gerbils about how they'd

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better not hurt her friends, and then she stomped back through the woods to where

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she'd last seen the holographic tapir.

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"Hey!

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World AI!"

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she called.

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"What can you tell me about the little fuzzy guys who shot down your drones?"

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The tapir reappeared, nose fisted, and spat the word, "Vermin."

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The hologram shook its head.

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"Villainous vermin who infest my planet and attack my automated components.

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I've tried to exterminate them many times, but they find the blacked

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out areas of my world, hide there, and then their numbers grow.

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No matter how many times I wipe them out, they just keep coming."

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Beneath her yellow fur, Lt.

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Vonn grew cold.

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What the tapir was describing wasn't the dynamic between

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an exterminator and a pest...

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not when the pest was smart enough to craft weapons and build traps.

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Lt.

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Vonn and her colleagues had gotten mixed up in the middle of a war.

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No wonder the gerbil creatures didn't have any advanced technology -- only sharpened

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sticks -- all of the advanced technology on this world had turned on them.

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Thunder clapped and a streak of lightning flashed down from the

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roiling purple clouds in the sky.

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Rain began to fall.

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The pit where Cmdr.

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Wilker and Consul Tor were trapped would soon become even more miserable.

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Although, the photosynthetic otteroid alien, Consul Tor,

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might not mind the water.

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She was both an otter and a plant after all.

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Thinking as carefully as she could, Lt.

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Vonn said, "Can you understand the...

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vermin's...

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language?"

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"No," the tapir said, rain streaking right through its photonic form.

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"They keep changing it.

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When they found out I could listen to them, they started evolving and twisting

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their language like dirty little ciphers."

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If that was true, the gerbil creatures weren't primitive at all.

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They were merely being suppressed by an evil AI.

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An evil AI who Lt.

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Vonn was working with...

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...an evil AI who had asked Lt.

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Vonn to kill it.

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Oh boy, these kinds of ethics were above a well-meaning security dog's paygrade.

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She just wanted to protect her crewmates, not figure out which side to take in

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a war and whether it was immoral to help an intellectually complex being

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kill itself for ulterior reasons.

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All of this would be easier if her comm-pin could signal The Initiative

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in orbit, and then the captain, a very wise cat, could tell her what to do.

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"Since the vermin have taken the supplies you sent me," Lt.

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Vonn said, still saying each word slowly, testing them out as if she were

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worried she might step into a verbal ditch lined with sharpened sticks.

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"Maybe you could help me contact my ship in orbit?

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The storm is blocking my signal, but if I could reach them, then

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they could teleport my friends out."

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Lt.

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Vonn didn't know a whole lot about AIs, but she knew that one stretched

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across an entire world must have a lot of processing power available to it.

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And that meant it could probably think a whole lot faster than she could.

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So, when the AI paused a long time before saying, "I will do my best to help you

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contact your ship," and then paused again before saying, "but it may be very

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difficult," this was not a good sign.

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In fact, it seemed a lot like a sign that the AI was lying.

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And the more Lt.

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Vonn thought about it, the less it seemed like the AI had any incentive to help her

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contact The Initiative up in orbit at all.

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In fact...

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It was very likely the AI itself was responsible for blocking

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her comm-pin's transmission.

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She was being held hostage by a suicidal planetary computer system.

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Great.

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There were so many officers aboard The Initiative who would be so much better

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suited to handling this situation.

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The Sphynx cat captain, obviously.

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He was so wise.

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The android fox.

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Zhe would probably be able to empathize with the world AI in a way

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an organic being simply couldn't.

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And the chief engineer, an orange cat, simply had a way

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with machines like no one else.

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That's why he and Fact, the android fox, were best friends.

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But also...

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Both Cmdr.

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Bill Wilker, the collie first officer, and Consul Eliana Tor, the mildly

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telepathic otteroid, who were lying unconscious at the bottom of the pit...

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They'd both be better at handling this situation than a simple security officer.

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Lt.

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Vonn knew how to protect her crewmates from danger.

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That was her specialty.

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That's what she was good at.

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It was basically all she could do, but today she'd done it badly.

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And now, she was facing a much more challenging problem as a result.

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And she was facing it alone.

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Doggonit, the world AI was right.

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It was terribly lonely, feeling like she was all alone!

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And for the world AI, time probably passed differently.

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A few minutes for Lt.

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Vonn might feel like years to an AI the size of a planet!

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Why, that was enough time for the AI to have changed its mind back and forth

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many thousands of times, over and over again, about whether it wanted to help Lt.

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Vonn rescue her friends or just kill her out of boredom...

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Okay, Lt.

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Vonn realized she was spinning out of control here.

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She needed to ground herself.

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Clearly, she couldn't outthink an AI the size of a planet...

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and now that she knew it was oppressing the gerbil society,

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she couldn't trust it either.

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But...

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The gerbils could outthink it.

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They'd proved that by learning how to alter their language

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so the AI couldn't keep up.

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Maybe the little fuzzballs with spears -- who had trapped Lt.

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Vonn's colleagues -- could help her.

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Gee whiz, Lt.

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Vonn did not like her choices on this planet.

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But right now, the gerbils with spears seemed marginally more likely to be

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trustworthy to her than the suicidal AI.

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They hadn't lied to her.

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Yet.

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The holographic tapir announced, "I haven't been able to unblock

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your communications device yet, but my third drone has found a way

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around the vermin territory and will arrive with supplies shortly."

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High-pitched buzzing and rhythmic chopping filled the air as the small automated

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helicopter descended from above the trees.

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It landed, and Lt.

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Vonn immediately dug into the package of supplies -- rope, a grappling hook, and

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some basic medical supplies including bandages and antibiotic ointments.

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"Thank you," Lt.

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Vonn woofed.

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"I'll take these supplies to my friends, and then I'll...

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come back to help you."

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She wasn't sure about that last part, and she didn't feel good about lying.

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But she didn't feel safe telling a planet-sized AI engaged in

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a war with the world's organic inhabitants the truth either.

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She didn't trust it.

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And she knew it was powerful.

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Feeling lost, confused, and overwhelmed, Lt.

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Vonn backtracked to the gerbils' territory, with the package of

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supplies slung over her shoulder.

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When she got there, surrounded by anger, squeaking, and furious

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spear-pointing all around her feet, Lt.

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Vonn knelt down to get closer to their level, in spite of the pointy spears.

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Then she started talking, rambling really, trying to say as many words as

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she could, as fast as she could, while still making sure they made sense.

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If they were smart enough to foil an AI by altering their spoken language,

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hopefully they'd also be smart enough to start translating hers.

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So, Lt.

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Vonn talked about her friends in the pit, her ship in the sky, her hopes

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and dreams from back when she was a little puppy, and all the wonderful

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adventures she'd been on as the security chief aboard the Initiative.

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The gerbils stopped squeaking and started giving each other meaningful glances.

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Of course, Lt.

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Vonn could only guess at the meaning behind those glances, but

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her guesses were something like, "What is wrong with this dog?

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Why does she keep rambling at us?

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Maybe we should help her out, you know, just so she'll stop talking?"

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At least, Lt.

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Vonn hoped that's what the glances meant.

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Eventually, moving slowly and trying to be as unthreatening as possible, Lt.

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Vonn reached up and removed the comm-pin from the breast of her uniform.

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She held the gold insignia out toward the nearest gerbil -- a

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brown and white puffball with particularly intricate decorations

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carved into the haft of her spear.

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The gerbil hesitated and then came forward to examine the comm-pin.

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After a few moments, the gerbil squeaked excitedly and gestured for one of

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her compatriots to come forward too.

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The second gerbil -- black with gray speckles and wispy tufts on her

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ears -- took the comm-pin from Lt.

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Vonn's much larger paw.

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She turned the device over several times and then deftly opened

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the backing and began poking at the wiring and circuitry inside.

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This was the first of two parts of “The Arsenal of Obsolescence” by Mary E.

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Lowd, read for you by the author herself.

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Tune in next time to find out how Lt.

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Natalie Vonn manages to rescue her fellow officers and escape from the hostile

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jungle world where they’re stranded.

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As always, you can find more stories on the web at thevoice.dog, or find the

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show wherever you get your podcasts.

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Thank you for listening to The Voice of Dog.

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Furry stories to warm the ol' cockles, read for you by Khaki, your faithful fireside companion. If you have a story that would suit the show, you can get in touch with @khakidoggy on Twitter and Telegram, and khakidoggy@me.com by e-mail.

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