science fiction & fantasy
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Greetings, Distant Travellers
The crash occurred at 6:45 AM, EST, rattling windows ten kilometres away. At 7:01 AM a police constable sent to investigate was stammering hysterically into his radio. By 7:45 city officials and a delegation from the local university were on the scene.
“They were likely making for the campus when something went wrong,” explained Dr. Amal Choudhry, hair unkempt having leapt out of bed on receiving the call from the dean and throwing on whatever clothes were to hand. No one noticed his sweater belonged to the husband of Caroline Gemma of the English Department, her husband away at a conference half way across the country in Calgary.
Police Chief Anna McLachlan scowled. “There’s a Hydro station and a military base along the same trajectory. They could’ve been aiming for either of those.”
“You watch too many movies. The visitors were scientists and explorers — come to communicate with fellow scientists.”
The beach crunched beneath them having fused into glass by the impact heat. The vessel loomed from the lake, draping a Stygian shadow over the shore like a pall. Police cars were parked about, yellow caution tape strung between trees, optimistically intended to hold back the crowds that would no doubt congregate as the day progressed. Behind Amal and Chief McLachlan came more officers, university representatives, and city councillors, like a troupe of ducklings. The latter lagged nervously behind, but careful to stay within the frame of photographs and cell phone videos recording the historic moment.
Reared up on its side, the vessel’s silver hull gleamed without apparent seams. Dead fish lay scattered upon the shore, boiled instantly when the friction-heated hull first impacted with the water.
“History is full of advanced societies interacting with primitive societies,” the chief said coldly, “and they didn’t trade theorems.”
“You’re describing essentially primitive barbarians interacting with other primitive barbarians,” Amal countered. “Not a culture that has conquered-” He stopped. “That has navigated the stars. To achieve such technology they’d by necessity have to be peaceful, else they’d have destroyed themselves already. Besides, the distances involved, the effort — there’s no practical value in interstellar conquest.”
“I’m sure the Indians who first spotted Columbus’ ships rationalized the same.”
A shout from down the beach sent them hurrying excitedly toward an officer waving his hands for attention. “There’s a gap in the hull! Looks like it cracked on impact!”
The jagged gash was about four metres tall and though tapered at each ends, was a good two metres at its widest.
Amal took deep breaths. He had assumed it might be days, weeks, before a chosen team could get inside the vessel — and he doubted that a local professor like himself would be on the short list. But now? Could he scramble inside — or would the chief try to stop him? Amal took a tentative step forward — then jumped back, bumping into the chief.
“What’s that-?” someone gasped.
Something moved beyond the dark aperture.
Breathe, Amal told himself, knees feeling weak. He had naturally assumed any pilots would have died in the crash.
“Load up!” shouted the chief.
Amal whirled, the chief slipping a rifle from her shoulder as other officers raced to her summons.
“No!” shouted Amal, more a plea. “Chief, please — these are travellers-“
“Scientists,” he countered.
Someone screamed and they both turned toward the dark opening.
A long limb dropped out from the darkness, splashing into the shallow water. The bones and joints followed an unusual pattern, the skin a weird shifting texture that Amal suspected indicated some sort of epidermal covering, like fur. Then another limb, then another. The body of the creature disgorged into the early morning light, as if the vessel were giving birth.
Screams and gasps issued from the back of the group.
It wasn’t pretty, that had to be conceded. Its muscular torso was wider than it was deep, flowing up into the head — almost like a frog. But a frog the size of a moose. It had a ring of glistening bubbles around the crown of what was arguably its skull, which Amal instantly supposed were eyes. Of a sort. Its mouth blossomed grotesquely into a circle, lined by intimidating teeth, evoking a sea lamprey.
“Huh-halt!” the chief stammered. She coughed and tried again. “Halt! In the name of, of, earth.” She shot Amal a look. “Does it understand me?”
Amal gawked at it, barely processing. “Um — it must. Look at the technology, the ship. It’s doubtless been studying humanity for years before choosing to make contact.” Grinning, he stepped forward. “We greet you in peace, you who come in peace.”
The alien seemed to regard him for a moment. Then its mouth swelled even wider, it gave a shrieking roar — and it pounced.
“Well, this is a mess,” said Ch’vizz, staring at the bodies scattered about the glassy beach. She distastefully nudged one of the dead earth creatures with the boot of her environment suit.
“What do you figure happened?” asked Dq’talth.
Ch’vizz shrugged one of her shoulders. “Looks like a herd of the local life forms-“
“Humans,” offered Dq’talth checking his data pad.
“Hoomahns, then. Looks like they tried to corral the Krom’lton-thiq and, unsurprisingly, it looks like it tried to eat them. But they proved poisonous to its metabolism.” The creature was sprawled amid the earth beings.
“Crew’s all dead,” shouted Fl’kinn, leaning out from the jagged tear in the crashed vessel. “The impact shattered the Krom’lton-thiq’s cage.”
Ch’vizz sighed. “Damned idiots. That’s why there’re regulations about transporting dangerous animals. I’ll bet they didn’t even have a license.” She shook her secondary head ruefully. “Let’s activate the grappler beam and haul the wreckage off planet before any more of these, uh, hoomahns show up.”
As they started back toward their own vessel, Dq’talth said, “You’ve got to admire their pluck though.”
“Imagine having the nerve to try and capture a ravenous Krom’lton-thiq with just their bare hands and a few projectile weapons? It’s almost like they figured they could reason with a dumb animal.”
December 1st, 2023
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