fiction by michael werneburg
"We'll have to inform the Prince," said the Lieutenant, staring at the read-out. He turned his gaze upon the Ensign.
The Ensign was a bright young fellow, and took his cue. "I will wake him," he said solemnly.
The Lieutenant nodded an affirmative, reflecting the younger man's tone. He liked young Hiram, and suspected that the overly serious nature the man exhibited would pass with experience. Certainly, it wouldn't survive long exposure to the likes of the Prince.
While the Ensign quietly tried to raise the Prince, the Lieutenant decided to check the radio. He knew what he'd find, of course, but it was worthwhile ticking off every item on the checklist even with a supervisor as hopeless as the Prince. He switched on the audio, and was rewarded with a babble of voices, sounds, and music.
Something caught his ear, and he weeded out a tune that was being broadcast somewhere on the planet below. It sounded for all the world like a pop tune that had hit the charts when he was a young man. He turned to the Ensign, and said, "Hey, you old enough to remember this?"
"Um, yes," the younger man said, "my brother had that album."
"Nah, it's not what you think. It's coming from down there," the Lieutenant declared, pointing at the planet that loomed large above them in the transparent upper hull of the bridge.
"How is that possible?" gasped the Ensign.
"Hang on, in a second the lyrics should kick in." Sure enough, a babble of wailing alien voices wailing cut in. "Voice modulation. Amateurs," the Lieutenant said.
"But, but, that's amazing!"
"On this job, you'll find that there's nothing new under this or any other Sun, my boy. I'll bet you a week's pay that that version is wholly local. Happens all the time. They call it 'convergent music'. Naturally it only happens with musically inclined species. Plays havoc with the copyright laws, but that's why we have lawyers, right? Zip down there and serve them once Dominion branch is through colonizing them."
The young man listened in awe. "Copyright? Oh, I see," said the Ensign. After a moment, he added, "My brother will be pleased; he got fined for copyright violation himself."
The Lieutenant laughed, and switched off the audio. "Anyway, we sweep for radio signals because radio is one of our first indicators that a primitive race is learning the ropes and might be about to go interplanetary. When this planet was selected as a waste repository, it was in part because there were no known intelligent races within two hundred light years."
"Aha! And how did these—people—find the cache?"
"People who've just made the jump into interplanetary space tend to look under every rock. It's one of the dangers of this business. We cache the stuff, and these characters dig it up."
"But don't they realize the dangers?"
"Certainly not. You know how long we've been using the technologies that produce this waste? Less than two thousand years. None of these primitives are even close to that kind of technology, believe me."
The hatchway at the rear of the bridge slid opened, and the Prince sauntered in, looking peevish and wearing what seemed to be sleepwear. "What the hell is going on?" he demanded, rubbing at his unshaven face.
The two men in uniform leapt to their feet. "Routine checkpoint, your Lordship," the Lieutenant informed him.
"It couldn't wait 'til morning?"