This week’s Spot Writers prompt is to use the first line of a nursery rhyme in a story. This week’s tale comes from Val Muller, who you can stalk at www.ValMuller.com. She writes books for children and adults.
Distress Signal, by Val Muller
“Rock-a-by Baby.” The screen beeped.
“I know,” Ezram growled. “On the tree top. Commencing treetop search. Triangulating signal.” He scurried under the tall, leafy branches of these strange Earth plants. They were all green. So weird. He snapped a few pictures before moving on. “So many trees on this planet. If only I knew which one.” He looked at his wrist screen.
The computer beeped. “Triangulation unavailable. Signal no longer active.”
He was too late. “Computer, replay signal.”
The screen obeyed:
On the treetop
When the wind blows
The cradle will rock”
“Computer, stop.” Ezram held out his hand. “No wind here. Computer, located wind gusts.” The computer did, and Ezram worked hard to navigate the strange planet, its mix of civilization and wilderness. He had to be sure not to transport somewhere dangerous, like the middle of a highway. This place didn’t have sensors to aid transporters. Safer to travel by foot, but this planet was tough. Nothing like the planned, manicured terrain of home.
After much searching, he found a place laden with trees and plagued by wind gusts. Surely the baby was here.
“Computer, resume play.”
The computer obeyed:
“The cradle will rock
When the bough breaks
The cradle will fall
And down will come baby, cradle, and all.”
“When the bough breaks?” Ezram searched frantically. “I see no boughs broken. Maybe it’s not windy enough.” He kept searching. The wind picked up, and he walked through the trees until he came to a clearing. There were several humans, some standing and some sitting in an open field.
He remembered his orders—not to reveal his identity, so he programmed a disguise sequence into his computer. Instantly, tentacles and tail were exchanged for dark glasses and a fedora. Then he stepped into the field.
“I need your baby,” he announced to the first couple he met.
“What?” The female of the couple seemed surprised.
The male of the couple laughed. “We don’t have a baby. Drink another one, though, and the cops’ll be out to get you, buddy. Just hauled away some guy who was doing kegstands under the pavilion. They’re out for blood today.”
“Computer,” Ezram whispered, “define kegstand.”
“Term unknown,” the computer answered.
Ezram chilled at the response. This planet was so strange. How was he supposed to save this baby when humans were so irrational about everything? And now they were something called “out for blood.” That didn’t sound good. That poor baby.
He kept walking, adjusting his fedora over his four earflaps. “I need a baby,” he muttered. “A baby in a cradle.”
Near a covered structure—probably the pavilion the male had warned him about—a mass of people loitered. They were consuming nutrients and making strange sounds. And there it was—a baby, underneath the shade of a tree, in a cradle. This was it! Next to the baby, a mechanical device was playing another distress beacon. This one made less sense, but Ezram programmed the computer to record it just the same:
“Summertime, when the living is ea-sy.”
“Computer,” he said. “Report back. I have found the baby and the source of the distress beacon. Commencing recue operation.”
Fifteen days, and two court appearance later, Ezram pouted while his starship took him home. His supervisor wanted a report, and he might as well get it out of the way.
“Computer, record report.”
“After tracking down the source of the distress beacon, Ezram found the baby in question. It did not seem distressed until the humans surrounded it started screaming. They have a strange way of thanking someone who is only there to help. The child was then provoked into screeching louder than our nighthawks. Its wails brought Earth Police. Their police force is not polite and did not seem to care for the wellbeing of the baby. They took the baby from Ezram’s arms and gave it right back to the irresponsible humans who must have put it high in a treetop, in harm’s way, in the first place. They seemed to demand an explanation, so Ezram repeated the signal for them, the distress beacon. They did not understand. Their justice system is confusing and inefficient, and their jails are not comfortable. In the end, Ezram chose to teleport out rather than wait for his final court date. Attaching pictures of Earth trees, human social rituals, interior of Earth Police vehicles, and interior of Earth prison. Recommend we stay away from now on, or at least things cool down. Respectfully reported, Ezram.
Damn. Looks like he’d get passed up for promotion yet again. Stupid Earthlings.
The Spot Writers- our members.
Catherine A. MacKenzie