*** I swerved to avoid another obstacle. These waters were tricky, taxing the collision-avoidance systems to their limit. But my designers had built well. Lower-level routines handled simple tasks: drinking power from the local star, avoiding rocks and logs, and most of all staying hidden from any curious higher-level beings.
If I had a sense of humor, I might laugh at the clumsy attempts of the resident high-functioners to tempt me to accept their proffered baits, thrown near me with all the finesse of a comet-hurtling leviathan from my home system. I merely noted the creatures writhing and dying on the metal hooks, the types and sizes of line and fasteners used. Data collection and transmission was not only my prime function, it was my passion. I did it well.
Day after day, I roamed the streams and rivers on this world, being careful not to get trapped in a backwater. I surfaced to drink power during the day, and at night I wriggled onto the shore, unfurled antennae, and sent summaries to the well-hidden probe just outside the orbit of their Moon. My purpose was accomplished with satisfying regularity. Until the day I was nearly captured.
Joe was euphoric. It was a beautiful Sunday morning, and he had a spot by the Des Moines River all to himself. Quickly grabbing his gear, he headed down the levee to his favorite spot. He had a lure on his line already, so in moments, he was casting upstream.
‘What is that?’ he said to himself. A fish was just circling around, right over there by the bank. He walked over and eyed it. Maybe sick? It was just circling slowly, kind of eerily, over and over. Joe made a snap decision. He hurried back to his car and grabbed a shad net from the trunk. He scampered back to the bank, and indeed, the fish was still there.
He held the net over the fish, and brought it down swiftly, in an arc towards the bank and himself. The fish rolled into the net – and then suddenly thrashed violently.
Darn. Usually these things tire out after a minute or two. Not this fish. It was even breaking strands of the net.
I did something heretofore only known to inferior flesh creatures. I grew careless. My quick calculation had estimated a 96% probability of this location being unoccupied at this point in time. I had not performed a deeper calculation - the necessity to recharge and purge propelling channels seemed overriding. So I had simply surfaced near the shore, and executed the maintenance routines. I did not reckon on that human being there.
Joe said “Hot Damn, this is kind of exciting!” out loud. Then he half dragged the net, with thrashing fish underneath, up the levee and towards his car. There was a five-gallon bucket in the back seat. Maybe he could get it under that, and save his net!
He made it right up to his rear passenger door, and was reaching out with one hand to open it. The sky suddenly erupted in a medley of colors around Joe, and he passed out, sinking to the ground.
*** I finally freed my vessel from the crude trap, and propelled myself unsteadily across the strange surface back to the edge of the stream , before safely submerging. That had been close – my entire mission was jeopardized. Fortunately an orbiting assistor came to my rescue! After subduing the interloper, it left in a hurry. No need to unduly alarm the local populations.***
Joe awoke a few moments later. The net lay near his feet; it appeared unbroken. But that fish was nowhere to be seen. He rose shakily, and walked up and down the bank, looking on the ground and in the water. Nothing could be seen. Joe had a headache; he finally decided it was time to get home. After all, it wouldn’t do to be late for his lunch date today. He thought to himself, I shouldn’t have drank so much last night!
***I hovered near the bottom of the river. And reached a decision to wait until darkness came to this longitude. I would take no more reckless chances this research cycle. That last time had been a close call. I made a special note to warn future explorers of the clever dangers these natives presented to the research corps. My timing pulses seemed to decrement rather slowly, or so it seemed at the time ***.