It’s All About the Ratings
“Tonight, on GBV, I, Javier Valero will open the ancient treasure crypt of the Molarian Galactic Empire. Live!”
Valero flashed his perfect teeth to the camera and to the billions of viewers watching intently on the other side of the broadcast. He took one measured step closer, tipping his head ever so slightly; a gesture designed to portray trustworthiness. When he spoke again, it was in hushed, secretive tones.
“No one knows what lies within. This ancient vault could contain more wealth than ever seen, anywhere in the galaxy. It may contain historically significant artifacts. Locked within the sealed catacomb may be weaponry capable of utter and complete destruction. That’s why the military is so well represented at our site.” The camera panned back to show dozens of high-ranking military officials seated to the right of Valero. Behind them stood a platoon of armed, combat ready, soldiers. They stood motionless in a state of picture-perfect attention. “But it is I, Javier Valero who has obtained the rights of first perusal. It is I, Javier Valero who will share this incredible discovery with you.”
Once again focused on the interplanetary broadcast superstar, the camera drone moved in closer, creating a sense of intimacy. “What do we know of these beings who once ruled a vast majority of the known galaxy? What made them tick? What was their downfall? Before we proceed to the grand revealing, let’s take a few moments to learn about the Molarian race. Please, sit back and enjoy this short presentation about what we know and what we theorize about the race who once called this deserted planet home.”
The instant the amber light on the automated camera went black, Javier turned to a technician who was urgently directing a laser towards a large metal wall. Beyond that barrier lay the aforementioned treasure.
“How much longer till we can get in there?”
“I don’t know, Mr. Valero. This material is unlike any I have ever tried to cut through before. I’m making progress, but it’s still going to be a few more minutes.”
Javier’s face started to take on a crimson tone. “You said it would be open by the time the broadcast started. If we don’t get in there soon, people are going to lose interest and tune us out. I do not want them to start switching over to Survivor Planet or this week’s astroball game.”
The laser operator started to comment, “I am doing the….” But Valero had already moved on, walking with large strides to the far-right side of the makeshift sound stage. There, in a single chair sat a military officer, backed by three armed soldiers, nonchalantly resting their weapons at their sides. Without CGI enhancements, the military entourage appeared much less impressive.
“So General, you understand that I have purchased the right to have first entry into the vault. I want you and your men to remain outside until I tell you that you may enter.”
“Yes, I know you paid, but, I believe, for your own safety, that we should accompany you inside. No one knows what you might find inside. It might be dangerous.”
“Or there might be valuable treasures that you think I will grab before you get a chance to take them. Don’t worry, General, I don’t need to take things from the vault to profit from this endeavor. This broadcast is going to make me millions. And as far as safety goes, I don’t think I have anything to worry about, this planet has been uninhabited for thousands of years.”
The automated voice of the camera drone preempted any further conversation. “Ten seconds till air.”
Valero sprinted back to his position in front of the vault. A quick glance at the laser operator found the anxious young man holding up all of his fingers, an easily interpreted gesture. Valero would have to stall for ten more minutes.
“Three, Two, One, Action”
“Welcome back. As you saw in that video, the Molarians were an impressively powerful race. Just think of the incredible discoveries that I could find beyond this mysterious wall. We are only seconds away from the grand reveal, but first, let’s bring Dr. Amos Schwartz to the stage to tell us a little about the discovery of this ancient vault.” Valero extended his arm towards a short, bookish man standing just off stage. When the man failed to respond, the annoyed investigative reporter started waving him forward, clearing his throat as he did so.
Eventually, the spectacled little man got the hint and took position next to Valero. “Oh, yes. Yes, of course.”
The camera drone moved to the left of Valero and rose slightly, giving the illusion that the reporter towered over the smaller scientist. “So, how is it, Doctor, that we have been aware of this abandoned planet for over twenty years and, yet, this vault was not discovered until recently?”
“W...We…Well,” the man stammered. His appearance was so painfully uncomfortable that the camera, following its pre-programmed protocol, turned from the scientist and focused only on Valero. The reporter donned an extremely serious face, as he intently listened to the doctor’s words.
“We really don’t know. This planet was thoroughly investigated upon its discovery and we found no sign of this location. Last month, a routine sensor scan discovered this large structure. We hypothesize that a sand storm or earthquake may have unearthed it.”
“Very interesting.” Valero interrupted, nodding to feign interest. “Could you tell us a little more about the unique material the vault is comprised of?” The reporter was in pure anguish. In his mind, he heard the sound of channels changing throughout the known galaxy. This delay was killing the broadcast.
“Oh, yes, yes, yes, of course. This is actually very interesting.” The scientist was starting to get much more comfortable with the interview. The camera shifted to once again include the scientist in the frame. “It is….”
“We’re in,” came a shout from off stage. The laser operator, soaked in sweat, dropped the bulky machine at his feet.
“All right, let’s go see what’s inside,” proclaimed an excited Valero. Ignoring Dr. Schwartz, he proceeded to the makeshift entryway that had been carved into the thick ebony metal of the vault. The camera drone, once again, followed.
Stopping at the perforated section of wall, Valero continued addressing the audience. “When I push this freshly drilled door to the side and enter the vault, you, the audience, will be witnessing everything just as I do. What will I, we, discover? This event will be historic, and I, Javier Valero, am bringing it to you, live.” With a flourish, he gave the loosened slab of metal a hardy nudge. It remained stationary. The chunk of metal was too heavy to be displaced by a simple shove. A second, more vigorous push yielded the same result. “It seems to still be slightly stuck. If a couple of the soldiers would kindly help me.” Valero’s face had taken on a noticeable scarlet hue, not caused by the physical assertion.
Finally, two muscular soldiers sent the oversized chunk of metal tumbling to the ground, inside the vault. Valero quickly waved the two men to the side, ducked his head, and entered the crypt. The camera following closely.
“Here we are. It is exceptionally dark. I will have the camera drone illuminate the area in a second. We will then see what amazing treasures this historic catacomb contains. I, Javier Valero, say let there be light.” Even as he said it, the reporter thought the proclamation might be a bit much, but this was his moment. Why not play it big?
Floodlights emerged from the drone, bathing the entire chamber in brilliant artificial light.
“It seems to be, mostly empty,” the disappointment in Valero’s voice was undeniable. The camera panned the large vault, showing nothing but empty space. Dust appeared to be the only occupant of this supposed treasure trove.
“Wait, there is something in a back corner.” Excitement started to push depression from the reporter’s voice. “Yes, it’s a large box of some sort. Perhaps it is a safe or treasure chest.” The camera proceeded to capture the image of a black cube, measuring about three meters on each edge.
With a renewed spring in his step, Valero quickly made his way to the perfectly proportioned cuboid. “It appears to be solid. I think it is made of the same material as the wall of the vault. Wait, there is, I believe, some kind of switch on it. Yes, right in the center of the front face, a nondescript tiny toggle, much like an antique circuit breaker.” The camera moved in to give the audience a clear view of what Valero was describing.
“Don’t touch that,” came a shout from behind the Valero and the camera. “We have no idea what that button will trigger,” called the General as he and the three soldiers entered the vault. Dr. Schwartz and the laser technician trailed closely behind.
“But the galaxy is waiting to see what wonder this button activates.” Valero was actually pleased that the military personnel had interrupted. He was going to look like a hero. “I, Javier Valero, will do whatever it takes to give the viewing public what they want.” After a couple of quick circular motions with his hand, for effect, he triumphantly flipped the switch.
For a short time, nothing happened, apart from Valero silently cursing his terrible fortune. Then an almost undetectable rumble began emanating from the cube.
“Wait, I think we have something. Yes, it is beginning to open.”
As the seven human occupants of the vault and billions of people throughout the galaxy looked on, a smaller perfectly shaped cube rose from the center of the box’s top surface. Horizontal fissures appeared on the front and sides of the cube, dividing each into equal thirds. Simultaneously, the mysterious figure began to rise as four rectangular pillars extended from the bottom of the cube.
“This is amazing, it appears to be changing shape, transforming.”
The three sections of the front split down the middle and began to peel to the right and left, forming what appeared to be, six arms. The miniature cube which now sat atop those arms came to life. Two disks of light, resembling eyes, began to shine brightly on the front of the smaller cube.
“Look at its arms,” screamed Dr. Schwartz from near the entrance. Everyone, including the camera, focused on the the six upper body appendages. As the humans watched, the outer ends of the robotic arms changed shape. What appeared were not hands, but merely open-ended tubes. Valero thought they looked familiar, like something he should recognize.
The massacre was exceedingly quick and far from painless. The camera drone pulled back; its programmed protocol working to perfection. The entire execution was recorded and broadcast for the galaxy to witness.
The soldiers drew their weapons and managed to get off a few shots, but they proved ineffective against the instrument of destruction that now stood in the corner of the vault. Laser blasts flew from each of the arms of the robot. With impressive accuracy, all six humans near the doorway were felled simultaneously.
Valero was the last to be confronted. The robot seemed to play with its prey for a short time. Laser shots landed near the terrified reporter, barely missing. Valero danced away from each blast. The drone’s high efficiency microphones easily picking up the sound of Valero’s terrified whimpers. After only a few seconds, the assailant seemed to tire with the game and finished its job with one well-placed discharge. As its last visible action, the robot turned its attention to the camera drone.
The screen flashed to grey static before going to utter blackness.
“Well, what do you think?” asked Gortron, his six arms crossed in an intricate pattern on his chest. “I think we should call it ‘Those Hilarious Humans.’ I predict a seventy percent rating share.”
“I don’t know,” replied the producer. “Are you going to be able to continue coming up with enough episodes.”
“Oh, assuredly. There are humans spread all over the galaxy and they are all as gullible as this group. We set this gag up in no time. I’ve already got ideas for at least a dozen more pranks like this.”
The producer was still hesitant. “What about METH? They are going to raise a stink over this.”
Gorton was well prepared for that question. “Molarians for the Ethical Treatment of Humans is just a tiny group of trouble makers. They have no power. In fact, they will just provide us with more publicity.”
“OK, I will put in an order for ten episodes. Just promise me they will all be as humorous as this one.”
“Don’t worry. This material practically writes itself.” Gortron then smiled a sly little grin and added, “I, Gortron Doomonogor, will make it happen.”
James Rumpel is a retired high school math teacher who has greatly enjoyed spending some of his additional free time rekindling his love for science fiction and the written word. He resides in Wisconsin with his wonderful wife, Mary.
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