skonen_blades: (Default)
They came back every century to monitor our progress. Our benefactors. The Saviors. Once a generation they returned.

I was young the last time they were here. I barely remember it. I only have impressions: my four-year-old fingers in my father’s beard, the summer day pristine, a dog with wiry hair close to us that I found fascinating, and the giant silver ship at the top of the hill surrounded by the thousands of us. I remember the adults crying and rejoicing. I was confused but I felt safe.

Now I am 104. With the medical extension technology they’ve given us, I still have the body of a 60-year-old and should be good for another 20 years. There are few others here who were present last time. We’re guests of honor and have bright silver pins on our shirts.

Back at the same hill near Brighton. The mound is still green, the sky is overcast this time. I am here with my own children, Rebecca and Therese. They are in their forties and Rebecca carries my two grandchildren with her.

There’s a puckering in the clouds above the hill and gently, the clouds form an opening, a perfect circle to admit the craft.

It descends bottom first, the silver skin glistening with rain. A massive tower of silver with the anti-gravity stabilizers throbbing through our bones like a deep bass. It’s majestic. I’m crying and I’m not the only one.

They will come bearing technology and systems of governance they feel we’re ready for. They’ve already balanced our atmosphere and given us peace.

It took the eradication or adaptation of all the religions. If needed, they named themselves the second coming or the apocalypse or whatever end of times prediction was necessary for each religion. For those that wouldn’t comply, a rapture was arranged. If they could not be converted with sights of the universe and proof of technology, they were frozen. If they wished to be sent on to their afterlife, they were destroyed. An astonishingly high number of them chose death. Only the faithful remained on Earth after the culling.

And faithful we were. Lovers of science, trusting of the visitors. United for the first time in Earth’s history and it had been that way for centuries.

skonen_blades: (Default)
"Your weakness is actually your strength", said the shimmering cloud of dust in front of me. It gusted and whorled but managed to maintain an shape of sorts. It was a cloudless, calm day here so I don't know what wind it was reacting to.

It was late autumn. I'd just finished work at the petrol plant and was taking a shortcut home through the grove. I was looking forward to seeing Wendy and my little Charles. I'd bought meat from the butcher on the way home for dinner. That was when the cloud appeared to me.

It talked to me in what I thought was English but I wasn't sure if I was hearing air vibrations or actual thoughts. The sparkling patch of air in front of me warped. I could see through it but what I saw behind it didn't make any sense to me. The trees through the twinkling cloud appeared to be in a different season.

"You can only exist in linear time with no awareness of the future." said the cloud. "This should not be possible for intelligent life. As far as any being knows, you are unique."
I stood, perplexed. I seemed to lack the ability for panic or fear. It kept talking.
"We all see time from the outside. Christmas lights on a string, a flat circle, choose your metaphor. But we are outside of it. We see all that happened. We can zoom in an experience anything but we lack the ability to change anything. Every moment of time is fixed." it warbled to me.

"But you. You humans. You should exist on train tracks but you don't. Because you can't see the future, you can change it. You have a choice. You can manipulate outcomes. We are at a loss as to how that's possible. For the moment, you are celebrities across all of time and space." it sang.

"I just wanted to meet one of you." it said, and jangled sideways into infinity.

I stood alone in the grove. I wasn't sure what had just happened.

I hurried home to my family for dinner but I was now obsessed with the choices I made with every footstep home.

skonen_blades: (Default)
Coming home to your planet is always such a bittersweet experience.

Visiting simpler locales always leaves me feeling thankful for Karroway, my home planet. Simpler systems leave me in wonder at how the locals can even function. I had just gotten back from a recent addition to the galactic council. The inhabitants referred to it as Earth. I hate to call them primitive but they only had one mind state with a small percentage capable of two. The current minimum for intelligent life was at least five mind states but an exception was being made in their case because of their accomplishments. These one-state mammals had created basic silicate life, broadcast technology and even brushed with higher math. And not only did they suffer from one mind state, they had finite life spans! The definitions of membership and the galactic definition of life were being revisited. Earth was currently a pretty big tourist destination as a result.

That's why I went. I needed a distraction. Life on Karroway could be boring just with sheer noise. I turned three of my minds towards the porthole.

Karroway's four-planet heliod system came up bold and backlit by its three differently coloured suns. A red giant, a blue dwarf, and a yellow star sparkled brilliantly through the 8 ring systems interacting with each other. Our orbit-locked planets stood out beautifully. The gas-giant fuel center Leptus, the turquoise cloud-covered Reena, the temperate volcano paradise Cheng, and the startlingly Earth-like Rhoodus. Together the four of them orbited tightly around each other in traffic controlled ellipses and all four in turn orbited as one around the three suns. Each planet had a moon system of at least thirty moons, all inhabited. The rings collided through each other on the ecliptics, throwing sparkling dust out in constant rainbow fantails. Borealis sparkled along the gravitational bridgepoints between the four-bulbed shared magnetosphere. Unsuited travel between the four planets was possible as their atmosphere was also shared.

3 suns, four planets, 128 moons, and 8 rings. Overpopulated with complicated eclipses, dawns, and sunsets.

You can imagine my boredom at seeing Earth. No rings, one moon, one planet, and one star. Hard to believe complex life evolved on that rock at all. But my time there was relaxing.

It was contemplative. My multicolored body was of great interest to them. The fact that a good percentage of my biology inhabited the quantum was unbelievable to their scientists. There was a buzz of activity with every new alien that visited them. I was the first of my kind to be there, they said. My frilled tendrils blushed with the memory of how much I was fawned over.

I felt aggrandized and god-like, sure, but I was also humbled. These backwater rock-dwellers had accomplished so much. What had I done with all of my gifts? All of my insight, all of my dimensional awareness? All of my engineered biology? I had the ability to move single molecules with my tentacle tips and zoom in to watch it happen. I was immortal, having my choice of when to ascend. I had the capacity to speed or slow time, to access higher levels of energy life and talk to them.

For what? Idle fun. For all my complexity, all my afforded privelege and advancement, I was boring and lazy.

I felt invigorated.

When I got back to Karroway, I was going to write a book.

skonen_blades: (hamused)
The ship had stopped in between Earth and the moon, twinkling like a massive cathedral made of glass and crystal. No shockwave or energy point. It was just suddenly there.

Our Earth defenses reacted immediately. The defenses of the asteroid belt and Mars rendezvoused with us around the alien craft.

We surrounded it, pointed weapons at it, and screamed orders at it to stay still and be calm. It didn’t react. It was hard to tell if it was following our orders, if it was truly dead in the water, or if it had even heard us at all.

The world was watching and the space defense forces of three solar governments were bristling with fear in a pinpointed sphere of death around it.

A hardy space marine scout advanced on it. I was that scout. I was old and experienced but I was also expendable.

I pushed forwards through the tense silence of space until I was right beside the ship.

I had no need to storm an airlock because there were vast open portals in the sides. There seemed to be no need to shield its crew or contents from the vacuum. I thumbed my jets forward, nosing my way cautiously into the interior of the ship.

A curious phenomenon awaited me. The ship appeared to only exist when light was hitting it. The hull and interior were only visible when the light of the sun or my suit’s flashlights played across it. Anything not being illuminated was transparent to the point of not existing.

The ship was half here and half not here. What I could see of the ship looked like ice or clear glass but when I reached out to touch it, my finger slid off of it. Completely frictionless.

According to our sensors, it didn’t have any mass. Obviously impossible yet here I was looking at it.

Movement caught my eye and I snapped my weapon up.

I saw the crew.

Odd, transparent, segmented snake-like creatures that flowered into an ornate nest of tentacles halfway up. They had the same properties as the ship itself, completely disappearing when in shadow. It was hard to tell if they were manufactured out of the same material as the ship or if they were merely in the same state of existence.

One thing was for sure; they were reacting to an emergency. I couldn’t detect any visible damage but the creatures were running around in what looked like panic even though they were ignoring me completely.

My headlamps were bringing the chaos into sharp relief. I wasn’t even sure if they could see me. They made no effort to avoid me yet somehow they never collided with me.

This looked like a cockpit of some kind but from what I could see through the translucent walls, the same activity was taking place in similar rooms. I couldn’t detect a central engine or chain of command.

Experimenting, I turned off my head lights and spun slowly to look behind me.

Lit by the sun from behind, my long shadow was a perfect me-shaped hole in the floor with only the depths of space staring back at me. I nudged down towards it and dipped a toe into the hole.

And my toe went through the floor.

I recoiled. “I’m leaving the ship!” I said into my comm. I couldn’t help thinking about drifting through a wall only to have the light change its angle when I was halfway through and trap me there.

Another part of me did not want to be aboard when the aliens fixed the problem.

I needed to leave. The ship didn’t appear to be a threat. It was just stranded.

I left the ship and angled back to my waiting defense craft to debrief. I was going to recommend waiting.

Over the next hour, darkness washed across us all as we drifted into the Earth’s shadow.

As soon as the ship was completely shadowed by Earth and no longer in the sun’s rays, I told the ships to turn off any lights they had trained on the ship.

As soon as they did, the ship disappeared. When we turned our lights back on to where it was, there was only empty space.

The scientists still puzzle over that crystal ship, theorizing how it could have broken the light barrier with its massless form. They talk about how photons or solar winds must have confused its tech somehow.

What lightless planet did it evolve on? How could it have form and no mass?

How could travel to infinity but only through the shadows?

skonen_blades: (hamused)
They didn’t bathe and they wore their dead. They stank like a sleeping bag full of ammonia-soaked gym socks. They reeked like a slurry of sauerkraut and feces poured into a rotting pumpkin and left in the oven to burn. They had the pungent ass-crack aroma of a dozen dead moose decomposing in a steam room.

What I’m saying is that the one overwhelmingly true characteristic of the Vitralsi was that they stank. Their stink was a cloud that warped the air around them like a heat haze on a highway. It was the kind of stink that could clear a forest.

Luckily it wasn’t poisonous but that didn’t stop us ‘oversensitive’ humans from passing out now and again when we had to share the cockpit.

And I had to share the cockpit with one right now.

Even with my lips suctioned firmly around an air filter, a plug on my nose and goggles on my eyes, I still felt as if I was being coated in tear gas and dunked in a sewer. It was like my skin could taste it. It was like I’d discovered a new human sense, suddenly activated because of never-before-experienced extreme conditions.

And I was a person that prided himself on having almost no sense of smell. All seven of the humans on the ship were selected for just that reason.

The scary thing was that in keeping with the humans having little to no sense of smell, the Vitralsi on this ship were picked for this mission because they were the least malodorous ones available.

My mind reeled at the thought that the creature beside me was tame in comparison to other members of its race. My eyes watered at the idea of a full-frontal nasal assault from a regular Vitralsi’s pores and gland sacks.

“Okay, we’re coming close to the surface now” burbled the Vitralsi. A fresh wave of garlic-flavoured oblivion washed across the cabin and broke across me.

“Roger that” I responded through clenched teeth.

The scent of a Vitralsi could literally give a human PTSD with enough exposure. That’s why there were seven of us on the ship. It was shown that if a human only served once a week, we could tolerate the smell.

And today was Sunday. My shift at the wheel. I was looking forward to six days of fresh air in the cramped and sweaty human compartments with other members of my race. Even though shower use was harshly regulated on this journey, they still smelled like potpourri to me after a shift in the ‘pit.

skonen_blades: (angryyes)
Their blood was like a cross between egg nog and hollandaise sauce.

Their skin was like bacon jerky. Their internal organs tasted like pecan pie filling with veins of peppermint running through them. Their muscles tasted of tarragon and blueberries. When they died, a wave of acid coursed through their brains, turning it into a tangy orange slurry. Their bodies, obsidian licorice toeclaws to grape-flavored head crests, were delicious.

Appearance-wise, they looked like rooster-headed cactus lobsters with too many white eyes and huge octopuses growing out of their backs.

With so many appendages, they had no right side up. They walked on claws or snaked along on tentacles as they deemed necessary, head always rotated to look forward.

At night, their bioluminescence made them look like mutant Christmas trees. They couldn’t turn it off. Worst camouflage ever.

They looked like HR Giger had Lovecraft over for a drunk drawing contest.

They were only around five feet tall but they were fierce warriors with complicated weaponry and wildly intricate martial arts.

Their death rituals were strict. Bodies were buried in the ground, water, or space but they were not to be disturbed. They would awaken during a rapture-like moment far in the future, it was said, unless they'd been interfered with.

Well, we were locked in a contest of extinction because they were delicious. We were devils incarnate to them. Our side hardly had to supply us with rations. The enemy was like a buffet to us.

Imagine a stinky pinkish monkey that ate all your dead. Now imagine lots of them, snacking on your comrade’s brains and moaning with pleasure like it was dessert.

There was no room for diplomacy. It was a fight to the death.

And we were winning.

skonen_blades: (hamused)
The thing about sleeping in zero g is that I have a lot of dreams about being in my mother’s womb except that in my dreams, my mother is sleeping in zero g as well. That’s impossible because my mother never went to space. She was sixty before the alien diplomats came down to earth, one in every major city and no two aliens the same. Glittering ships that defied all reason touching down like inverted chandeliers before discharging creatures trained to field questions in English through their translators. The one in my home down of Phoenix Arizona was a tall insect that looked like a violet, leafless tree that walked around on crab-leg roots with a tight line of softly-glowing blue eyes down its trunk.

I was twenty-five years old at the time but still, when I saw that creature, I felt like a six-year-old who knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. Your calling can come at any time, I guess.

I wake up smiling at the memory and uncurl, the light slowly branding up to daylight in my quarters. I turn on the gravity and look out the window. Through the porthole, I can see a cadmium cue-ball planet with scudding blue clouds and a double meridian of shadow from its two suns. It’s beautiful. I’ll be briefed about its name in a second but for now I just drink in the view and once again swim deep in the wonder and pride I have at my job.

And then I look in the mirror.

I had alopecia when I was thirteen which means my body hair grows in patches now. I also have a dark wine birthmark that splashes across half of my face and most of my right arm. One of my eyes has too much eyelid and is higher than the other while my wide, thick lips hang like deflated inner tubes over the ragged jut of my huge, uneven teeth. My chin pushes forth like the prow of a ship. My nose is more like a beak and would probably come down to nearly touch my shelf of a chin if it hadn’t been broken in a youthful bicycle accident. It’s like a shark fin shaped into a child’s drawing of a lightning bolt in the middle of my face.

My point is that by human standards, I’m ugly. Hideously ugly. Almost comically ugly.

And the aliens don’t care. Because of that, I smile again like I do every day here. I don’t care if I ever see Earth again.

I take a morning sip from the protein udder on the wall and zip up into my jumpsuit. As I leave my quarters and join the flow of traffic to the main hall, I bump into a krinotaur. I think it’s beautiful. It flows past me like a wave settling next to the shore.

Maybe it took the job for the same reason I did. Maybe its eye cluster is too bulbous. Maybe its leg-stalks are too short. Maybe its communication mandibles have a noticeable stutter or lisp equivalent that's erased by the translators.

I would have no idea.

Everyone's earned the right to be here. We're diplomats and we're intelligent representatives. I know that the other life forms have tests and training just as stringent as my own that brought them here. We’re good at what we do; useful to our homeworlds.

I head to the briefing room to learn about the white planet below us and what city I’ll be assigned to welcome them into the galactic council.

skonen_blades: (hamused)
I have Picasso’s blue period all over my tongue and all I do is lick barber poles until they stop being candy canes and start being blue electric advertisements for those stores that always have what you want but it comes at a genie-swindle price. Barbers used to be doctors which meant that barbers used to bleed their customers to make them feel better. Genies are a euphemism for basements in our souls. Our greed is an escape hatch to another world where nothing bad exists. Our fantasies are a forum for lies that only speak to us in lanterns and lovers that never say the wrong thing. I have a helmet made from dreams rolled flat and lacquered into a carapace that protects me when I rush headlong into stupid, stupid intersections.

To say that my heart is a race car is a lie. To say that it is a parachute would be accurate. It only opens when it’s falling and it doesn’t slow the descent, it only slows it down and makes it land safer. I am one driving lesson away from leaving the road. My heart beats like an ambulance. My heart’s an underground river. My wish is that I get taken by aliens and brought back a better person.

skonen_blades: (blurg)
April 30/30



Randolph Beaucoup of the Terran Diplomacy Wing had been selected from fifty candidates for this particular First Contact mission. Little was known about the Marenko other than they were anamorphic pseudopods without discernible features. Smooth gelatinous bags that had the ability to form as many multi-fingered tentacles as needed to build or manipulate technology. The Terrans were still trying to figure out how they saw without eyes and thought without visible brains.

There were large ones and small ones although that seemed to have no bearing on age. There was talk of one the size of a small ocean but it may have been a god myth of some kind. All was unclear at this stage other than the fact that they had space-travel capability and were, by and large, peaceful. The math constructs had been sent and received as proof of intelligence and no weaponry was detected at the landing site.

Randolph stood on the plateau a few steps away from the Terran landing plank beneath his ship, clad in a fishbowl helmet to clearly display his face and wearing a tight spacesuit that showed his musculature to curious species. It was known as the 'nothing-to-hide' approach. The stars twinkled above him. The Marenko balanced in front of him like a transparent rearing slug trying to impersonate a capital S. It was the size of an elephant seal. Unlike slugs, however, the Marenko were unnervingly quick.

The Marenko extended a glittering flower-tipped pseudopod towards Randoplh and paused. Randolph extended his own hand and grasped the pod tip in what, in his experience, was a universal sign of greeting. A sharp pinprick zeroed in on his palm. His suit easily patched the tiny rupture as Randolph withdrew his stinging hand with an involuntary hiss of shock.

Before he could move, the Marenko extended another tentacled pad that slapped wetly up against Randolph's helmet and stuck there.

"Hello Randolph. The earth-name I have chosen for myself is Mary." said a pleasantly-modulated voice. The tentacle was vibrating against Randolph's helmet to produce the sound. "It is a pleasure to meet you. This has been a delightful first contact and I am honored to be the first to produce our communication."

Randolph thought that was an odd choice of words.

"The pleasure is mine, Mary." he replied. "I'm happy to meet you too. I'm curious, what was the purpose of poking me like that?" he asked, tentatively hopeful that the answer would be benign.

"I needed a small tissue sample to produce our communication. You are in me now, growing. Soon you will be large enough to leave yourself here and then we can talk after you leave."

Randolph couldn't understand the words. The sentence must been parsed wrong in the alien's nascent attempt at translation. "I'm afraid I don't understand, Mary." he said.

"Look closely at my center, Randolph." said Mary.

Randolph looked closer at the core of the huge alien's wavering, smooth gelatin. There, in the center, curled up and twitching, was what looked like a tiny human baby.

A tiny baby with transparent skin and gelatinous bones. A tiny baby with dark hair and dark eyes, just like Randolph. It grew as he looked at it. A Meranko-Human hybrid of some kind.

"This version of you will stay here. We will converse. It will have your memories but it will be of my race, too. After a short amount of time, you may come to collect him and talk to him as well to gather your own information."

"Uh.....what?"responded Randolph eloquently.

"I am, as you say, pregnant." said Mary.

skonen_blades: (Default)
The pulsing orb set down in my farmhouse’s back yard in the middle of the night. The corn swayed in the breeze, completely unaffected by the alien craft. It silently came to a stop on the grass just outside the cornfield, shifting in colour from red to green.

In the distance, a dog barked.

I stood on my back porch in my bathrobe carrying my shotgun.

I stared at the glowing, eerie ship. A door opened and a green creature came out, stepping down invisible stairs to the lawn. It stood fifteen feet in front of me. It had a disturbing amount of claws and teeth. It looked nervous and awkward.

“Hey there. Uh. You mutht be a hoomin.” it said, long tongue lisping through long teeth, “Thorry. Uh….human! Human. Yeah. Uh, take me to your leader? Is that how it goeth? Yeah. Take me to your leader.” Said the alien.

“Get off my property.” I growled.

“Uh, yeah. Uh. We come in….peath! Peath, yeah. That’s how it goeth, right? We come in peathe. So, like, take uth, to, the…prethident. At the White Houthe.” Said the alien, shooting me a red-eyed questioning look.

“Look. If’n you don’t get offa my property, ahm a-gonna blast ya.” I sneered at the beast.

The alien looked at me. It appeared to be thinking.

“KORTH-QUAT!” boomed a huge voice from inside the ship, making both me and the alien jump. “QUIT PLAYING WITH YOUR FOOD!”

Sheepishly, the alien looked back at me and shrugged. It leapt at me before I could even raise my gun. The last thing I saw was those teeth coming straight for my face.

skonen_blades: (Default)
As was usual with First Contact, communication had been the problem. The problem we were facing here was that the Nitkas had 56 mouths around their gigantic heads, 28 on each side.

When they spoke, each mouth spoke one word but all the mouths spoke at the same time. If their sentence had less than 56 words, the unused mouths would hoot when talking so as not to be left out. Each sentence was one big crowded shout, like a whole orchestra playing one note for one second. If a Nitka barked several times, that was a paragraph. It was a very efficient method of communication.

We were there for six Earth months trying to put together a translator. It was frustrating because we talked at an obscenely slow speed compared to them with our one lonely mouth. We said our words in a linear order taking forever to meander to the end of a sentence. Only the most patient Nitkas partook in our studies.

Seeing them learn English had been humbling. They broke the dictionary into groups of 56 words and shouted them staccato-blast at each other in their classroom. That took an hour. After that, they blasted rules of syntax to each other in the same way. They could learn our language in a day.

But they couldn’t speak it one word at a time. The one trick we’d been able to teach them was to treat each word as a sentence. They could say ‘the’ with one mouth while the other 55 mouths droned. Then they could say ‘cat’ with one mouth while the other 55 mouths droned. Then they could say “went” with one mouth while the other 55 mouths droned. And so on. The Nitkas were uninterested in that as a solution because it took so long and it was hard for us to hear what was being said by the one mouth with the other mouths droning. In a way, that led to our solution.

With a Nitka standing in a spherical cage of directional microphones pointed at each mouth, we could isolate the one word being spoken. With that discovery, we realized we could isolate all the words. With speech recognition programs, we could recognize all 56 words but then we had to order them. The computer could work out the versions of the sentence that the Nitka probably meant and show them on a screen. The Nitka could point to the right sentence. That let them talk to us fairly quickly.

Speaking back was a challenge. We could dictate words to a small bank of 56 speakers that would say them all at once. We had to be careful to make sure not to say sentences longer than 56 words or the Nitka would get confused. The result was us speaking in a straight line, one word after one word, and then pressing a trigger and the sentence was barked to the Nitka by the speakers. After that, they’d respond and then point to the sentence on the screen that was closest to what they meant. On our side, there were still embarrassing pauses as we spoke but it worked. It encouraged us to be succinct.

The result was a lightweight net of microphones worn by the Nitka ambassadors around their heads with an accompanying datapad for clarity and the humans wore a small bank of speakers on their chests. It remains one of the hardest challenges I’ve faced as a translator designer.

skonen_blades: (Default)
The shifting planes of the emerald ship folded and twisted to expose smaller shards of landing gear as it touched down lightly on the White House lawn. It was a beautiful August day and the sun played off of the shining edges of the massive craft.

All of the world’s news networks were present at a safe distance from the craft’s touchdown point, telephoto lenses extended. They had perceived something newsworthy was happening and had gathered moth-like to the ship’s light.

A long shard extended forward slowly from the gleaming ship until it touched the grass.

The automated weapons that were trained on the ship swiveled to the new door that opened at the top of the walkway.

The creature that ambled down the walkway on several sets of legs had a large, ferocious mouth and three widely-spaced sets of eyes on either side of that mouth. When it got to the bottom of the walkway it reached out one long, taloned toe to touch the grass. Dubious at first, it gingerly stepped onto the grass and then looked around.

“Hello?” it said. Only the wind answered.

The cameras zoomed in. Programs based on intelligence-search SETI and NASA algorithms analyzed the creatures movements and body structure, cataloguing every nanosecond of this first contact. Military AI searched for weaknesses, quivering with as much panic as silicon intelligence was capable of, straining like a dog on a leash, looking for any excuse to open fire. Satellites reflected the live feeds to hundreds of countries and six billion silent homes.

Automated, efficient energy plants supplied power to those homes. Cities were kept running by nanodrones and reconstruction extruders. Even they were tuned into the transmissions that iCams were broadcasting.

“Is there anyone I can talk to?” the alien queried. It had obviously practiced the English language and it looked proud of it. Its voice echoed out over the lawn. No one answered.

Screens flickered all over the earth in billions of homes. Decades-old corpses lay in front of those flickering screens in those quiet buildings.

The disease had escaped and mutated too quickly to be contained. The disease thrived in water, lay dormant in food, breezed through plastic, ignored temperature extremes and was also airborne. The entire civilization had been wiped out in a matter of days. All humans and most mammals had been dead for a long time. The disease itself sputtered out soon after its hosts perished.

Plant life thrived and insects were enjoying a heyday. Meat-eating reptiles were almost extinct. A new ecosystem was growing.

And the automated systems continued masterless. Humans had found ways to power their machines for centuries at a low cost to their economy and the environment. AI discoveries had given the machines limited autonomy. And then the humans had died.

“Well. Uh. I mean. Shoot,” said the alien, pawing the ground, and then in its own language, “this is anticlimactic.”

“Anything?” barked a voice from inside the ship.

“No,” sulked the alien, “It’s just another casket.”

“Hey, don’t beat yourself up about it. You know the odds against finding a thriving planet-bound civilization right while it’s alive.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” The alien walked slowly back up the ramp into the ship.

The cameras mutely tracked the ship’s ascent into the beautiful sky until it disappeared and then turned back to scanning for other area news. The military stood down.

The planet mutely went back to business as usual.

skonen_blades: (gahyuk)
It’s the glowing catfish moustache that gives the only light down here, the fish’s lower lip tracing powdered silt on the ocean floor.

The dead eyes of dead faces stare eternally, skull-holes hollowed out by crab-things long ago. Each dog tag wrapped around bird skull furred with mold. Fistfuls of lariats and identification cards stick up out of the ground like exposed wiring and Barbie-doll gravestones. Magnetic strips discolor with algae. Barnacles clog the gun barrels. Long strands of seaweed reach up through ribcages with too many ribs.

Fore-armed is forsworn, said the recruitment packages. Join Earth’s Army to Help Bring Civilization to the Stars. First pick of the spoils. Beings signed up. Jelimorphs, hellicorns, annamen, retreads, and silicates. Even now and then an esper became corporeal, risking truedeath to join the fight and get a slice.

And now, down here under intense pressure in the blackness of an ammonia sea miles deep, bottom feeders nudge their bones. The soldiers are strewn across hectares of dull, smooth reef down here amongst the glowing fish that target carrion. Soldiers with many limbs and some with only a few. Soldiers with hard bones and soldiers with exoskeletons. Soldiers with tentacles and soldiers with articulated mandibles. Poverty-stricken, uneducated, and greedy. Their death is not a tragedy.

An entire shipload arced into orbit here with an exterial winch brushing too close to a moon that wasn’t on the charts. The explosion was instant and inside the shields. The ship opened wide and spilled nearly a million sleeping soldiers through the soupy atmosphere into the cold ammonia sea.

They never woke up.

Here they lie while battles rage and lovers love light years away on other planets. The ebb and flow of conflict and union continues to play its song across the stars.

While these dead soldiers are watched by a glowing constellation of fish.

skonen_blades: (gasface)
This particular first contact was confusing. All the aliens seemed to have the same name. At first we thought the translators were broken but it appeared that the aliens, thrilled at meeting another alien race, were all named Cruff. They looked at us through their many yellow eyes and wide smiles with different lengths of green hair.

It was awkward.

In a radio transmission, they’d referred to their own race as the Kursk. So we knew they weren’t referring to their race.

When we introduced ourselves, it was like they didn’t know if they should be insulted or confused. Their smiles fell. They blinked a lot. They checked their translators like we did.

Then when re-introduced ourselves, the confused ones said their name was Jart. The two that seemed offended referred to themselves haughtily as Pronto and looked at the ground.

The Kursk had a notion that all emotions and physical states were vast, invisible beings. And that to experience an emotion or physical state was to become an appendage of that emotion or physical state. They believed they were merely extensions and that each of those vast, invisible beings had a name.

The joy of discovery was called Cruff. When a Kursk experienced the joy of discovery, that Kursk’s name became Cruff. Confusion was called Jart. Being offended was called Pronto.

They had different names depending on their physical or emotional state.

Angry people were called Tarno but then when they become happy, they were called Shret. The names were applicable all across three of their sexes.

They had six hundred and eight-seven names. As their society progressed and became more complex, a new name was added now and then. The last time that happened was a hundred years before we met them. They were very peaceful.

They had math and so they had numbers for each citizen to keep track of them in terms of any needed bureaucracy. Personal Identity Numbers to keep the wheels of commerce and retirement and birth records going. In many respects, they were like humans.

What happened was a tragedy. We’d taken precautions against any sort of biological or technological contamination. We’d even limited their access to our records so that they wouldn’t find out the finer points of war or the more distasteful chapters of our history.

But names. We didn’t think of the names.

We contaminated them. They had six hundred names. We have millions. In their culture, a new name was a big deal. They hadn't had a new name in ten years.

Now they had too many. It introduced a fracture into their society. In a mad rush to assimilate what they could from our culture, they innocently copied over nine hundred thousand names before we barred access to our records. We didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late.

They couldn’t agree on the finer points of the new names and what they signified. They demanded to meet people with the names they were unfamiliar with. We refused.

It plunged their society into chaos. It exposed them to an emotional complexity within a month that should have taken centuries to develop. We feel pretty guilty.

We basically introduced nine hundred thousand giant, invisible beings into their society with no idea how to define them. It might as well have been an invasion.

We are orbiting the planet now. Soon we will leave and classify this planet as off limits except to qualified personnel.

We’ve done enough damage here.

skonen_blades: (Default)
The virus was in the music.

First contact had happened four months ago. We were receiving music from another planet. All of the deep space exploration dishes swiveled over to listen. A small bit of it was played on CNN when the story first broke. Not long after, the whole song was released. It was digitized and after the primary uploads it spread out over every radio, television and internet station on the planet. YouTube users produced homemade music videos to the music. A few experimental artists did their own cover versions.

It cured deafness. It was deemed a miracle by the pope.

It was immensely popular. Alien but catchy. A new rhythm we’d never heard before. An always repeating but never repeating pattern, like the branches of tree. A few notes we didn’t have but an accessible beat and in some places, an almost plaintive sense of purpose. It never quite hit completion. There was something maddening about it but also calming. It made a person’s mind search for what was missing. The scientists were finding that there were notes in the song that were too high and too low for us to hear, like it was designed for aliens with wider sound spectrums. Either that or it was a song designed for every race in the universe to hear no matter what kind of ears they had.

It didn’t have an ending. It had been playing since we first started listening to it. When people covered it, they merely faded the song out after a while. You could do a ten minute version or a two-hour version. A few film makers had released movies where the entire feature-length soundtrack was a snippet of the song. Mathematicians were likening it to pi.

We were all swept up in the craze. Musical aliens! People openly wept with joy on talk show interviews when they were questioned about it. It seemed so benevolent. For the religious, it was concrete proof of God. For the atheists, it was proof that the universe was a friendly place.

It wasn’t something that we noticed right away. I mean, people all over the world hate their jobs, right? People were quitting. A few at first, but then a lot. Soon, people started saying home in droves. Calling in sick or just not showing up. They walked around the streets with smiles on their faces in the sunlight. All turning up the music, smiling, and walking out of their workplaces.

Only the workers necessary to keep humans alive and listening kept going to work. And they did it gladly. For free.

The music caused an intense sense of peace. It affected everyone who heard it. It was also altering people’s bodies. They could get by on water and a few bare nutrients a day. Some people starved but most people just got much thinner. They sat in parks and on rooftops with earbuds humming all smiling and staring. There was no panic. It was a worldwide quelling of stress. Reporters stopped reporting.

Within a year, industry collapsed and communication networks hummed with only the music. Gardens sprang up on every block. People stayed in touch through the internet but after a while, even that went silent. We were all connected through the song.

It was a lullaby that put us all to sleep.

It had caused everyone to sit down where they were and just appreciate the beauty around them.

The immense, black, pointed ships showed up in the sky two days ago. They’re collecting us.

We don’t mind.

skonen_blades: (haBUUH)
It was that time again. Time for the aliens to mate. I was the first human allowed to watch.

The Kurisk were a unique race. Their minds had raced forth early on while their bodies remained on the bottom rungs of the evolutionary ladder. The Kurisk had become adept at building and smelting and extrapolating when most races were figuring out how to walk upright and club each other.

They enhanced their primitive appendages with wooden and then clay prosthetics, enabling them to make more complex tools, enabling them to make more complex machinery. They built carapaces for themselves out of metal. They built heaters for themselves inside those carapaces to enable exploration of the polar regions. Then they built self-contained breathing apparatus for trips below the water. They built communication arrays inside their increasingly armoured husks.

After that, they added wings and flocked to the sky. After that, gunpowder and kinetic weapons to protect themselves from skyborne predators. After that, they added rockets and escaped their planet’s gravity.

When food became a problem, they managed to make adjustments to themselves to live off of solar and gravitational power while in space and geothermal power while on planets without nutrients. One of them flew near a gas giant and transmitted a blueprint to all his fellow Kurisk about an idea for improvements to survive such an atmosphere. The discovery of lasers was an evolutionary leap.

Every new set of planetary circumstances they came in contact with caused them to race back home and add a new layer to their shells. They were quick learners.

No one knew what their original forms looked like. They were permanently sealed in their massive shells.

Masters of language translators and pleasant to talk to, the Kurisk were curious and inquisitive. A good thing, too. If they’d been warlike, they would have been formidable. They held patents on most of the technology in the universe. They hadn’t yet mastered Faster Than Light or Transport Technology but it was only a matter of time.

In some places, they were referred to simply as The Improvers.

While each Kurisk varied a tiny bit, they tried to remain identical and to keep all of their improvements up to date across their entire race. This made it impossible to tell them apart. Only the Kurisk themselves could do that.

Every six years, they needed to return home to mate. This was the only time they came out of their shells. As a Universal Geographic reporter, they let me visit their world to witness and record what no other race had seen. They saw my own human curiousity mirrored in theirs.

I was about to see a naked Kurisk.

A Kurisk with the designation Arentally, my friend who gotten me this job, was interested in a Kurisk named Mortenoj. Mortenoj was fertile and Arentally was ready. With an agreement passed between their arrays, they started to undress.

It took an entire day. Pressurized suits were collapsed slowly. Eggshell-thin casings were retracted. Reactors were powered down. Connections were waterfall-triggered to regress and bodypit faceplates were folded under and away. Hoses were detached. Complicated suture arrangements and biomechanical virus defenders were temporarily dissolved.

And there, at the center of the enormous, open, bloomed flower of intricate machinery, sat my friend, Arentally. He flopped forward onto the ground with a grunt. Sort of a cross between a vivid green slug and an blue octopus. Utterly disgusting. He couldn’t speak to me or see me without his equipment. He waved a weak tentacle and slithered towards the smell of his mate.

Mortenoj was also out of her shell. The two of them clumsily found each other, sliding across the ground, and entwined. It was very messy and noisy.

I filmed the whole thing with a frown on my face and tried to remain professional.

skonen_blades: (meh)
The grey ghost of no-longer used subway tunnels echo with footsteps. Eyes the colour of brake lights sweep the halls for any signs of life. A hair, perhaps. Some old skin cells. The civilization that lived here is long gone.

The metal creature walking through the tunnel had to reconfigure to fit inside. It walks softly on seventeen legs. It has no name for itself. It is an extension of the star dwellers that fell through this atmosphere and found a richness of data to fill memory banks. The only thing better than a dead civilization is a living civilization but at least there was no threat here.

Not just cataloguing, not just recording. Cross-referencing. Extrapolating. That’s what the creature was doing. At its core was a neutronium half-dwarf star tightly wound around a pinprick of a black hole. The creature had thousands of this planets’s orbits to investigate the fallen buildings.

It looked as if the indigenous life had tried to divorce itself from its origins on this planet. Structures that were at odds with their surroundings yet made from them. Rock cut into pieces and then stacked into square shapes to provide shelter. Everything changed. Everything translated.

Whatever destroyed them didn’t destroy the plant life and the insects or even the mammals. In the wake of whatever cataclysm claimed them, the natural order of this planet surged back.

Green moss covers everything on the surface. From space, the planet is two colours. Blue oceans and green continents. The creature has taken aerial surveillance of all of it, much to the shock of alarm of the other sky dwellers.

But here, underground, in the old tunnels that must have been used for transportation, the life remains untouched like a tomb. Whatever functioning electrical conduits the creature walks close to light up like spirits at a séance. Video cameras, control panels, track-light switches, and security lights all glow and spark as the creature walks past.

Still no bodies. By the creature’s estimation, nothing recorded so far could have built this civilization. It wants to find the creators. It wants to find the one responsible.

So far nothing.

The creature will walk and record and presume until it finds something it can look at.

skonen_blades: (blurg)
We had always been looking for a way to legitimately kill the stupid. But where did one draw the line? An outside force, something inhuman, had to make the choice. We couldn’t make that kind of decision.

We found a way.

The aliens left behind a device. We don’t understand how it worked but the components were simple and easy to recreate.

After first contact, Earth was catalogued, included in their star maps as possessing both intelligent and non-intelligent life, and then left alone. It was quite anticlimactic. Almost business-like. The aliens themselves had translator machines that picked up our language nuances wonderfully. They went to great lengths to appear like us. Aside from the blue skin and golden eyes, they succeeded. Their spokespeople appeared on all of our talk shows and deftly handled all of our xenophobic questions. They mollified us, measured us, and left.

The silence in their wake was depressing. Those that had been waiting to become part of the galactic family all of their lives felt like they’d been given nothing more than a high-five.

Then we found the device. It was the small machine they used to detect intelligent life. It flashed red on animals, meaning non-intelligent life, but green on most humans.

Most humans.

Some humans were classified as red. The mentally challenged, those with brain damage, and most children under the age of three, for instance. But around fifteen percent of adults tested also fell into the red category. In most cases, it wasn’t a shock. Racists, incompetents, overly aggressive men, willfully ignorant people, non-readers, dubious politicians, and religious zealots for instance. There were exceptions to all of these categories but the ones that showed up red were rarely surprising.

Many genetic theories were thrown into the pot. Perhaps these people, mostly from the same families, were closer in lineage to our ancestors and had not been given sufficient spurring to evolve. Perhaps they were from a strain of the human race with defects. Perhaps inbreeding millennia ago had produced these throwbacks.

That’s when the theory started that maybe the human race needed to be pure for the aliens to return, that maybe we were being watched and tested.

The first few ‘red murders’ were put down to extremists but as Green Wave Party started climbing in numbers, death tolls rose.

At first, all of the red-positive folks were rounded up for their own protection. Those temporary lodgings turned into refugee camps as the months and years went by. They were a drain on resources. Several leaders in the scientific community calmly suggested euthanizing the lot of them. After all, according to the alien’s machine, they were no smarter than stray dogs.

Most of the cities concurred.

Calmly, deliberately, and with a cold, orderly precision that would have made Hitler jealous, the lives in the camps were extinguished.

A few rebelled and successfully broke free only to become the hunted. A few escaped because of sentimental attachments that Green Wave Party members had. Wives or stepsons, that sort of thing. They were neutered and let out into GWP custody with no more rights than pets.

After the purge, the human race has become smug, docile, and guilty. Everyone is routinely tested. Everyone is green. We are smart and happy.

And it was all thanks to the aliens. We can’t wait to show them what we’ve accomplished.

We’re still waiting for their return.

skonen_blades: (thatsmell)
Do I consider myself a citizen of Earth? Do I consider myself a human? Am I an alien sympathizer? Members of the council, I fear I no longer know what these questions even pertain to. They are meaningless sounds to me now with no more gravitas than the bark of a dog. I have only the following to say and I say it not in my defense for I know that is a laughable word in this court. I say for the sole reason that I must. It is on my mind and I fear the end of my career is near if not my very existence.

I have seen people who attended one meeting out of curiosity have their entire lives destroyed by the subsequent investigation. I have seen people who, solely by being accused by this committee, have seen their occupations disintegrate.

To be dramatic, you are angels with flaming swords, blind to the destruction you're causing but unwilling to stop because you're convinced your actions are just. If I was scared, you'd see it as guilt. But I am calm, and you see that as a suspicious flippancy. There is no victory for the accused in this room.

The sense of insolence you perceive in me is merely a sense of resignation. My life was doomed the moment your men knocked on my door. I have been brought before the all-powerful and my life is over. People who can't even pronounce xenosympathizer have been dragged before you in tears after running from arresting officers out of simple animal fear that you mistake for culpability. Their attempt to flee and subsequent weeping are no more an admission of hubris than this table is carved from a block of cheese. You take far too much joy in your mission, your unattainable goal. No society can be spotless.

A human ship landed on that planet, yes. The ship was destroyed and the astronauts were murdered, yes. I don’t know if the pilot and crew were perceived as a threat or food but I do know that it was a mistake to land without further research. The fault is ours.

The aliens were not communists. They were insects. They had no concept of money or values. They ate and built. It was not a political philosophy. It was nature functioning at a base level. They drew no line in the sand and they did not belong to a side. They didn't have the emotions with which to hate us. This is all our doing. We are guilty of genocide. Our act was not retaliation. Our act was a first strike.

And now, out of guilt and a bloodlust that was only fueled by their deaths and can never be sated, we are turning on ourselves. This, the aftermath of our shameful first contact, will be looked back on with even more horror than our mass slaughter of that race. No matter how many 'sympathizers' you root out and destroy, you will always be lady Macbeth and your hands will never wash clean of blood, both red and green.

I did nothing when they were destroyed as I have done nothing since. I have attended no meetings. If I am guilty of anything, it is of not raising my voice when it may have mattered. I await this mockery of human dignity to run its course and I am humiliated to be alive during this chapter of earth's existence.

--Last recorded words of disgraced xenobiologist Jance Hayward, 63rd traitor executed in the state of Arizona during the post-Xenocleanse Purge of 2061

skonen_blades: (Default)
There is a tremendous amount of other life in the universe.

The universe is encrusted, moldy, infested, slushy, teeming, and stuffed with life. The amount of life in the universe is staggering. Much as the earth is populated with a bewildering array of lifeforms developed to take up refuge and thrive in the most bizarre of niches, so too does life perform on other planets.

The segmented iceworms who would evaporate from the touch of a human hand on far-away iceballs. The gas-giant sparrow clusters and tectonic-plate-sized manta rays that lurk deeper. Algae that lives under constantly shifting volcanic plates. Spores that float dormant and content in vast reef schools through space. Entire asteroids of silicate life that steer themselves by committee like herds of sheep.

There are no sets of temperatures, gas composition, gravity, radiation or light that completely precludes life. Anywhere in the galaxy. We are engulfed and surrounded by it.

The one thing that all life besides us has in common is this. It speaks no language and has no conscious thought. It knows fear, the urge to reproduce, affection, and the thousand other instinctual gifts that any natural life is heir to but it does not think. It does not reason. It does not question. It has no sense of self or sense of God. It merely lives.

Our television programs that spew out into the universe have contacted over five hundred million species of aliens. But those ideas and tv scripts have hit other life forms the way that sunlight hits a fox.

Giant centipedes with massive, radio-receiving antlers get our shows and shake their heads at the noise and paw the ground. Old reruns of Three’s Company tumble through the photo-voltaic flake crystal storms of fibre-optic minnows on dark blue ammonia shores, lighting them up in waves of colour that play havoc with their mating rituals. Broadcasts of old black and white films cause entire herds of black spheres on tiny moons near a distant planet to stop rolling, all sense of direction disrupted. Saturday Night Live reruns from the early eighties are cutting tiger-stripe swathes through the flimsiest space-webs of solar sail creatures astronomical units wide drifting in space. Reality television is causing one planet's dominant predators to enter hibernation early, triggering a continent-wide shift in the ecosystem.

We are contacting, inundating, and even harming millions of races daily. All to no effect other than the casual ebb and flow of natural selection. The universe is crowded.

But we are alone.



skonen_blades: (Default)

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