There's an old saying which dates back to the time when there existed a species of Earth mammal known as 'mice', or 'mouse' in the singular. Funny name, isn't it? Well, imagine your average pet jaxtercoccyl from Taurus Prime, then reduce it by a factor of ten. That's a mouse. Although they were sometimes kept as pets, mice were generally regarded as a pest, much as sentient tomatoes are now, but much faster and more difficult to catch.
The saying was, 'Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.'
In case you hadn't already guessed, the saying is about the importance of invention in a market economy. You don't have to come up with anything wildly original. Just an item that does it's job a little bit better than the previous version. A mousetrap that's more efficient at catching mice, for example.
I built a better ray gun. You didn't hear about it, did you? You wouldn't have. This is the true story of what happened. It doesn't matter now. They can't get to me here, so I'm just going to spill the beans and what the heck.
The story starts about, I don't know, maybe twenty years ago. The time when wave after wave of alien invaders were making a real nuisance of themselves. From every planet in the galaxy, it seemed. There was a bit of an arms race going on, between the different ray gun manufacturers, spiced up by the fact that every time a new species of alien appeared, more often than not the old ray guns didn't work and you had to come up with something new.
When you're shooting aliens, you don't want to disintegrate your house, or the swimming pool, or wherever your gun happens to be pointing, do you? Especially, as I said, when this was happening practically all the time.
Of course, the military had a stake in this too, although they were generally gung ho about blasting houses, cities, or even planets on occasion (which incidentally is why we ended up with all the jaxtercoccyls — you know the sad story as well as I do).
Anyway, being a bit of an inventor, I thought I'd have a go myself.
This is the point where we meet Darek, who is actually the most important person in this story.
Darek and I shared a workshop which we rented from a local warlord. It was actually an abandoned police station, (back from the time when they still had police, those were the days!) but the underground cells were useful for holding various species of captured alien, so that we could test our guns on them. Pretty neat, huh?
You'll probably say this is cruel, but I look at it this way. A quick kill is much better than a lingering, agonizing death. The aliens who gave their lives for ray gun development at least got to live a little longer than the average alien invader, and they also made the deaths of the aliens who came after less unpleasant than they would otherwise have been.
And that takes us more or less to the crux of the story.
Darek and I had been working on a ray gun that disrupted neurotransmitters. The beauty of it was, in principle, it would work on anything that had a brain, which as you know is nearly 80 per cent of all intelligent life.
We were trying out the latest prototype. It was a complete dud, or nearly so. The aliens we used it on, seemed to become more agitated but that was just about it. Nada, as they say on Taurus Prime (or, rather, used to when there still was a Taurus Prime).
We were fooling around. Then, somehow, I don't know how it happened, I accidentally shot Darek.
'You stupid idio...', Darek got as far as saying. Then a beatific smile spread on his face. 'You are wonderful! I love you!'
The rest you can piece together from the newspaper headlines. 'Love gun inventor on the run.' 'Love gun inventor sighted on Cygnus Minor.' 'Million Galactic Credits award for the capture of love gun inventor.' Et cetera.
There are models still around from the first hurriedly manufactured batch of 100. Worth a fortune on the black market.
But the warlords weren't too happy. They cottoned on pretty quick to what was going on and had the military kitted out with full protection gear. The newspapers were finally silenced. And they came after me.
But now I've built an even better ray gun. Any space cruiser captain foolish enough to steer his boat within a million miles of my planet will be instantly vaporized.
© Geoffrey Klempner 2012