Excelsior, Part 6

We decided that since they asked for Albalureindis, they’d get Albalureindis. Everyone else would be monitoring the circuits to assist her, to gather or provide information, or they’d be in hot standby to fly out and support her more directly.

Weps was halfway into her ‘your place is on the Conn’ speech when I agreed with her. She seemed surprised. It’s not that I didn’t want to be involved in a First Contact, I just had more tools at my disposal from within the ship. I could support my Eng from the Conn far better than from her shoulder.

The aliens had found this planet first, so I avoided any form of encroachment. They might have a colony here. We made a minimum-time descent, passive sensors gathering as much planetary information as possible, active sensors pointed towards the landing zone only.

Excelsior made landfall on a nice little beach near the harbor’s edge. A huge granite (or something similar) outcrop provided support right next to the water. The outcrop extended under the water to a point about up to Reins’ armpits before it dropped sharply down to the deeps.

We could have landed in the harbor, the ship design supported it, but I wanted to make clear we were primarily land-walkers. Also a distinct demarcation of ‘your area, my area’ might minimize mistakes of intent or accidents of shoulder rubbing.

Remote probes were scanning the peninsula around and under us for about two hours before the other vessel approached. Gravity was about 60% of Earth normal. The land vegetation we could see suggested that yet again, we’d found a planet on the giant scale. Trees soared 150 feet in the air, pteranodon-looking things nested in the middle branches. Nothing like a land animal appeared, but we kept alert. The water had some schools of orca-sized fish-things flitting about, nothing that seemed able to challenge the aliens.

The air had the right chemicals to support life, but we had only begun the flora/fauna/xenoa exams. Suits were the order of the day until we fully evaluated the biosphere.

The other ship splashed down in the middle of the harbor and motored over next to us. They had a bow wave we could have surfed on, so we always knew where they were. Alcazaar suggested that the ship design would have been more efficient completely submerged, so I assumed they were trying to be polite. It boded well, I thought.

Reins donned her suit and cycled out the lock. She paused at the outer door.

“Captain, should I name the planet?”

“Well, either we make a new friend here today, or we start a war. Let’s find out which, we’ll name it then.” She nodded and continued out to the beach. She waded to knee deep and waited.

One alien swam out of the ship and over to near her. I was reminded of a million pulp-magazine illustrations of aliens: dark black, rounded details, kinda familiar like a squid, disturbingly alien with the tri-lateral design. It swam like a torpedo to the shallows, then humped itself clumsily to a vertical position.

Reins waved just like her image had in our message. One tentacle waved back in a fair imitation. From within its folds it drew out a small box (small on the screen, bigger than a diesel engine in real life). A row of six lights started to blink. A cheer came up from the elves.

“It’s counting, sir,” Chuffump reported. “Introducing us to mathematical concepts, probably base six. Our computer’ll eat this stuff up, it’ll probably lead to some sort of language exchange.” Reins detached a portable camera and positioned it on a rock outcrop. She pointed to the box and the outcrop.

The alien extended a tentacle to place the box where the camera could record the lights. An elf rigged a four-light readout on the front of the camera to convey our copmuters response to their information. I imagined our two ships’ computers having a conversation about us. Probably a condescending one.

While the data storage units calibrated each other, Reins tried to get friendly with the squid on the beach. She’d point and name things, it would point. Then it would squiggle lines in the air, she’d pay close attention, no one understood.

When the fish arrived, we found there was at least some communication going on.

If a threat had appeared on the land side, I’m sure we’d have shot it, or tried to drive it away. When our sonar probe found a large school of really, really big fish coming into the harbor, we looked to the aliens who were in the water for a response.

The ship didn’t seem to take notice of them, nor did the one on the beach when some of the heads started popping up out of the water.

At first sight, the way-nasties, as my crew named them, made me try to figure out if Lovecraft could ever have seen a coelacanth. The were chthonic in size, shape and temperament: lobe-finned fish with eight stumpy legs, about 2/3rds mouth with irregular fangs, and about 4/3ds ugly. They were about half again as long as Albalureindis was tall.

We found out later that Rissak did have a colony on this planet, on one of the southern continents. And they were familiar with the southern breed of way-nasties. The southern breed were solitary, and always shied off when anything the size of a Rissak approached. The ship crew and the beach ambassador were aware of the pack, but saw no reason for concern. We took our cue from them for far too long.

The biggest, ugliest way-nasty crawled up on the rock ledge where the meeting was going on. Reins watched with interest, her companion ignored it. Until it tried to eat him.

Eight stubby fin-feet churned the water as it charged. It sank those black fangs into one of his tentacles and bit it clean off. It surged forward again and bit deeper into a major fluke. Our contact sagged immediately. Twenty other fish in the pack surged through the surf.

I did and still do take full responsibility for my crew’s actions. And according to the log, I gave explicit instructions for the shuttle to launch and engage targets, with authority to use deadly force in the protection of our comrade and our contact. In point of fact, Weps blasted the outer door off and they were clear of the hull before I got as far as saying “GO!”

I didn’t take any credit for Albalureindis’ actions. When the first way-nasty attacked, she charged it. She’d been walking very carefully in the lighter gravity up til then. Now, she fairly flew up over the damned thing and kicked its head down into its tail. She scooped up the squid and belted for Excelsior. Her dash took every advantage of giant strength, adrenalin and almost half gravity and left a rooster tail of dirt behind her.

The shuttle passed her at shoulder height. Once the pair were in the clear, Cheryl started launching missiles, eight tubes at a time. Elf pilots screened them in on remote, targets assigned by Weps, aimpoints selected by weaponeers. Point blank launching, one shot, one kill, eight times, then eight times again. Then they were beyond the pack and turning around over the harbor.

The weaponeers still on board had been pointing weapons every direction except the squid, on my order. I didn’t want any accidents. Now they were scrambling to acquire targets. I declared open season on big ugly fish things.

Reins reached the airlock and made the most critical decision of her life. We’d only ever imagined one giant being on board, and designed a one-giant airlock. Even in refit, only one would have gone through it at a time. There was no room for both of them to enter the ship.

She didn’t hesitate to toss the squid in and take off. Ruspahar operated the door controls to seal him in. We weren’t going to be able to drag his mass inside to give her room. She knew that and headed inland.

The way-nasties were down to four, the ones that’d been on the edges of the pack when the shuttle passed. They scuttled off on Reins’ tail, moving pretty fast for slithering horrors. Her track to the trees led them across Sung’s line of sight. He took the lead one out with the fore-cannon with two shots. Missiles from the ship’s launchers took out the other three and the fight was over.

It’s long been a Space Corps standard: months of outrageous boredom seasoned by minutes of sheer freaking terror. That’s when it got really scary. The Rissak ship lifted from the water.

It reminded me of a shark again. Now it was an angry shark. It loomed over Excelsior. Nothing like interstellar diplomacy right after an adrenalin rush.

“Ruspahar, get the hatch open so they can see their shipmate. Doc! Any think we can do for our passenger? Cheryl, keep the shuttle well clear of the vessels. Chuffump! Bring our Engineer back to work.”

When the squid waved feebly out of the hatch to his ship, it backed off. Doc was concerned about trying to attend a patient that didn’t know he existed and I couldn’t argue with him. He did suggested spraying water into the space. It perked the thing up a bit.

As Reins staggered back to the lock, I was telling her to get the squid back to his, for lack of a better word, people. She aye-ayed, leaned against the hull for a second, breathing heavily. She waved to the ship, the same wave she’d done a dozen times today. The ship backed off a little more and lowered to just over the ground. The Eng turned and waved into the hatch before lifting the squid out to take him back.

He waved back, then reached forward. He laid the tentacle on her shoulder and gave it a squeeze. They stood there for a second, looking eye to…to funny little grayish spot under the hood-thing that turned out to be something to do with their reproductive system.

They fixed it for the statues, the ones on Earth and Riss, and the really big one there on the beach of ‘Kickass.’ They made sure she’s looking at PhssssSockock’s primary sonar lobe, nice and proper. Right then, right there, it was the first real, emotional contact between our species. The xenolinguists showed up a month later, and it took most of a year to actually get a language programmed. But to Excelsior and her crew, that was all anti-climax.

The Rissak Pod nicely overlaps the Alliance, nowadays. Their sea colonies look to complement our land ones. What we can understand of their bio-technology exceeds our wildest dreams. As for the Rissak, they seem to find it comforting to imagine the feisty big and little Earthers between them and the various threats in the galaxy. Kind of like three sizes of Doberman. The Rissak are not pacifists or cowards, but they just can’t quite match us for sheer bloodymindedness.

Of course, in all four species, on all twenty seven planets, no one’s yet found a use for damn Whazzat.

The End

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