Ray’s box of Palomino Blackwing pencils arrived that morning. Sleek with extendable erasers, they were the epitome of sexy. At least for a pencil, he thought. The yellow ones in grade school certainly weren’t. When he thought of those what came to mind were all the teeth marks in the ones he borrowed from his classmates, freshly chewed and still damp.
The internet ad for the Blackwing claimed it was the best pencil ever made, firm & smooth was its tagline, and Ray enjoyed the feel of a good writing instrument. Not all pencils were alike. Some wrote quietly, leaving you happily unaware of them. Others scratched across the page as if they were serenading you with the Sex Pistols. He quickly demoted those to the wood shop to mark boards.
It was supposedly a famous pencil, though he didn’t know there was such a thing until he read about it in an article on a movie industry website he followed. The Blackwing was used by famous people to write famous novels and screenplays. Ray didn’t want to be famous, never understood the point, but he was a sucker for image and the Blackwing had cachet to spare with its almost metallic gray shaft and black eraser. It whispered to him from the ad on his monitor, I’m cool, I’m sexy, and you can be too. All you have to do is buy me.
And he did.
Ray chose a pencil from the box and began sharpening it over the waste basket, twisting it in the little metal sharpener around and around until he was satisfied with the point, then he opened the spiral steno pad with its soft green pages, touched the graphite tip to the paper and waited for inspiration.
* * *
The Colonizers – Chapter One
The spaceship’s gangplank came to a rest on the forest floor. The first mate took point going down the ramp, scanning left and right continuously as she led her team of four to check the safety of the ship’s immediate surroundings. It had been built for speed and hardly an ounce of fuel was left in her after their descent. The mission was a one way trip and survival for the crew meant creating a society that could colonize the planet. She’d been told in the mission briefing that the planet was only inhabited by smallish mammals, insects and fish and she sure hoped that info was correct. Getting gobbled whole by a monster as she came down the gangplank wasn’t her idea of a successful landing.
At least we won’t starve, she thought at the sound of the birdlife above in the trees around them as she began a mental list cataloguing the dangers they faced on this new world. The four of them weaved their way through the trees in single file as they walked a large circle around the ship. They encountered a number of squirrels that behaved almost tame and the first mate chalked it up to their unfamiliarity with them. The squirrels hadn’t learned to fear them yet, but they would. Squirrels made a respectable meal, much better than the tiny birds fluttering from tree to tree.
On the far side of the ship they heard puzzling sounds coming from the distance. They weren’t the natural twittiers of birds or wildlife, but mechanical, similar to the sounds on their ship, in particular the warning claxon. The first mate motioned to the others and they headed away from their ship toward the noises.
As the sounds grew louder, they came to the edge of the forest and were confronted with an expanse of pavement crowded with speeding ground ships. Behind the windscreens were large orb-headed beings with sunken eyes. But what confronted them on the path that paralleled the travel of the ground ships disturbed the first mate even more.
She gave the signal to spread out and disappear into the undergrowth. “We’ll return to the ship,” she said softly. “We need to report this to the captain.”
* * *
Ray paused to sharpen the Blackhawk, happy with its smooth flow. Bugbutt, his French bulldog, stood and looked up at him from where he had been resting by his feet.
“You think it’s time for a walk, don’t you?” Ray smiled. “Alright, but first let me finish this bit.”
Bugbutt snorted, circled twice and lay back down.
* * *
The first mate looked up at the captain. Even after all the time shared on the ship, she was still impressed with his imposing size. It was part of the reason he’d been chosen to lead the mission. “The planet is inhabited by strange orb-headed beings,” she said. “They have technology, ground ships, and who knows what else.”
The captain rested his bulk on his haunches. “This changes things.”
“It gets worse,” the first mate said. “We must be on some sort of prison planet. We saw several of the orb-headed beings balance on long spindly legs as they led our kind on tethers attached to neck chains as if they were livestock. All that I can think of is that these orb-headed two-leggers have been to one of our other colonies and abducted its inhabitants. There can be no other explanation.”
“Livestock?” The captain slowly shook his large head. “Never again.”
The gathered crew listening nodded their agreement.
The captain stood and addressed everyone. “We’ll wait for nightfall, then travel away from this inhabited area. We’ll keep moving until we find a place that is remote and safe and there we’ll breed until our numbers are such that our chances of survival are strong. This season everyone breeds and come spring we’ll have litters galore.”
“And the ship?” the first mate asked.
“We’ll bury it.”
“And the ones in chains?” she asked.
“They’ll have to wait. When we are greater in numbers we’ll come back and free them.”
* * *
Bugbutt snorted and rubbed his butt against Ray’s pant leg.
Ray put down his new pencil, satisfied. “Need to poop? Alright, let’s go.”
He leashed Bugbutt and the two of them left the condo. They rode the elevator down to the lobby and stepped out onto Central Park West. Bugbutt dragged him to the nearest tree on the parking strip and lifted his leg, then began the ritual of sniffing the ground for the ultimate place to poop. Ray was glad it was Sunday and he wasn’t in a hurry because this usually took a while. Bugbutt was very particular.
As he stood waiting, he got that uncomfortable feeling he was being watched, but no one was paying him any attention. He was simply another New York ant among the millions. City life was making him paranoid, he thought just as he spotted the steady gazes staring at him from the park across the street. There were four dogs, standing together as a pack, alone, not an owner in sight, and as he returned their gaze, they scattered into the shrubs and were gone.