by Jason Lairamore
THE STARSHIP BATTLE CRUISER ATTAINED ORBIT around the small planet, K-471. The ship was damaged, like many of EarthCorp’s large military vessels, but it had made the journey.
“Transmit the emergency broadcast,” Lieutenant Alex Flagery commanded. He piloted the ship, but was acting Captain since the death of his superior officers.
“Yes sir,” Ensign Lacy Harding said from her communication post. She pushed a few buttons on her consol. “The message is sent, Lieutenant. If Dr. Moore is down there, he will hear it.”
The Lieutenant nodded. “This is where his lab said he was taking R&R. Damn way to ruin a vacation.”
“It’s a damn way to start a war, Lieutenant,” the Ensign countered.
* * *
Planet K-471 was small compared to Earth and had a gravity of only 75 percent Earth standard. This made for a very pleasant physical experience to those used to the rigors of more Earth-like bodily stresses. For this reason, and the fact that the landscape was breathtaking, the planet had been designated and promoted as a prime vacation spot.
What the marketers and public relations people had failed to guess, however, was how much broader the use of K-471 had become to the worlds at large. Sure, the tourism trade boomed, but so had the arts. A veritable Renaissance had exploded upon the surface. The richness and depth of human culture had blossomed like never before in recorded history.
Dr. Tol Moore was standing in front of a painting depicting a bowl of fruit when the museum’s PA system crackled overhead.
“Dr. Tol Moore, Neurosurgeon of Earth, please report to the nearest orbit-port. Your presence is required.“
Dr. Moore sighed and gazed again at the simple painting. There was something about the vibrant colors and the diffuse use of light that touched his soul.
He ran a hand down the simple, cotton shirt he wore and wriggled his toes in the comfortable sandals that the hotel had provided. At the moment, he looked more like a philosophy trainee than the worlds’ foremost neurological specialist, but he guessed it couldn’t be helped. He didn’t want to waste the time it’d take for him to go back to his room. They wouldn’t have called him on his vacation if it wasn’t urgent.
* * *
Fleet starmen wearing their smart, black uniforms hurried around the inside of the huge cruiser as Dr. Moore followed Lieutenant Flagery down a corridor. There was an aura filling the ship, one that Dr. Moore keenly felt after his time spent on the wonderful planet below.
“Thank you for your quick response Doctor,” the Lieutenant said.
Dr. Moore nodded. “Why am I here Lieutenant?” He had done work for the EarthCorp before, but never with this sense of urgency. His thoughts turned to his sister, Clarice. She was a ranking member of the Corp’s ground crew. He wondered where she was and if she was a part of whatever was going on.
The Lieutenant led him into a small room with a virtual reality hook-up. “My orders came from the Planetary Council. Please,” he indicated the VR machine.
* * *
Dr. Moore watched through the eyes of his sister.
He recognized the Planetary Council auditorium from the network videos, but had never seen it from this angle. Clarice was standing behind the Earth president’s desk. A half circle of other desks contained the leaders of the other planets. And, standing in front of them, was a blue, four legged alien, taller than a man, with three eyes and the longest, out of proportion, arms that Dr. Moore had ever seen.
Earth’s president stood, as did the rest of the collected council. The alien twitched and did a nervous dance with its four legs. Dr. Moore tensed, just as Clarice had, since the VR technology allowed one to piggyback neurological experiences.
“Welcome,” the president began. The alien struck before the word was completed.
But, Clarice was quicker. Dr. Moore was unable to follow the series of quick actions his sister took in her augmented body. She seemed to simultaneously pull the President back and block one of the being’s long attacking limbs.
A searing pain ran down her arm from the blow, but she somehow spun and kicked the creature in the torso. It slid sideways with the blow and began attacking the next closest member of the planetary council.
The recording went black with a spray of blood from whoever the alien next struck.
* * *
“What happened next?” Dr. Moore asked as he rubbed his arm. He felt as if the bones of his forearm should be broken. His mind tried to convince him of that certainty, though he knew it wasn’t true. The effects of the VR took a few moments to wear off.
“Only two people in the direct vicinity of the alien survived. Ten died before the creature succumbed. There was a brief skirmish where our cruisers attacked the alien vessel. We had ten ships to its one and all of ours sustained damage before the ship escaped.”
Dr. Moore stopped rubbing his arm and looked up at young Lieutenant’s grave face.
“The aliens returned with a squadron of ships,” Lieutenant Flagery continued. “Right now, we are holding a line of ships in front of their force and they have stopped advancing. All hails for communication are going unanswered.”
“Is my sister alive?” Dr. Moore asked. He had to know that before he could continue.
A smile touched the Lieutenant’s face, though it didn’t penetrate much deeper than that.
“She saved Earth’s president,” he said. “They don’t call her the best fighter in the universe for nothing Doctor.”
Dr. Moore let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. Clarice had done her job. Now, apparently, it was time he did his.
“What have you brought me here for, Lieutenant?”
“Let me show you.”
* * *
The blue alien lay on a table too small for its immense size. The thing was covered in green blood from its various wounds.
“The council wants to know what it is we are dealing with Doctor,” Lieutenant Flagery said, “and fast.”
Dr. Moore gazed at the creature. He had dissected his share of alien life. Their unique neural networks had been invaluable for the advancements of the scientific community. This was the first one with intelligence, though. The thought of peering at its makeup lit his sense of wonder brighter than ever before.
But the thing had a hole in its head from a projectile. His jaws clenched as he gazed at that small hole in the alien’s tall forehead. There was no telling the damage the bullet had caused.
“I will contact you as soon as I have my results,” he said.
“I cannot stress enough the importance for haste in this manner Doctor,” the Lieutenant said. “That one ship of theirs wreaked havoc on our most powerful warships.”
Dr. Moore looked hard at the young Lieutenant. “I will let you know when I have answers.”
The Lieutenant nodded. “Thank you Doctor.”
* * *
Three eyes, multi-jointed arms longer than its body, four powerful legs – what set of circumstances had nature provided to create such a creature? Dr. Moore wondered, but didn’t have the luxury at the moment to create a possible hypothesis. What mattered were the nerves, and such a collection of connections he had never before seen. The corpus callosum was divided into six separate parts. The optic nerve of each of the three eyes was doubly innervated compared to humans and connected to three times as many parts of the brain. White matter dominated much of the vast skull, but, surprisingly, the gray matter was roughly equal to that of man.
The setup raised more questions than answers. There was too much here, an overabundance of neurons. Why, with this level of brain activity, the creature lived a life so far out of sync with humankind that relations between the two races would forever be impossible.
“Lieutenant,” he called.
The door to the room slid open immediately. Lieutenant Flagery’s eyes showed shock at seeing Dr. Moore’s surgical gown covered in green blood as he stood beside the hastily butchered alien.
“I need to talk to Earth’s president at once,” he said.
The Lieutenant recovered quickly.
“He is with the ships at the standoff. We started travelling toward them the moment you arrived on ship.”
* * *
Dr. Moore had just finished preparing the three holo-projectors he planned on using when their cruiser got close enough for them to ferry over to the vessel holding the president.
“Lieutenant,” Dr. Moore said as they walked the corridors toward one of the giant airlock bays used for the transport ships. “I’ll need a treadmill from the cadet gym loaded onto our transport.”
“Doctor?” the young man asked.
“That’s right, a treadmill,” Dr. Moore said. He didn’t look up into the Lieutenant’s face. He knew what he would find there … confusion, and he didn’t want to have to undergo the man’s scrutiny. This plan of his was doubtful to work, he knew. The added suspicion others were sure to direct his way would only further shake his resolve.
But, truly, he didn’t know what else to try.
“Yes Doctor,” the Lieutenant said after a few more steps. Dr. Moore sighed internally at the ease with which the young officer had accepted his strange request.
His only hope was that he might convince the Earth president so easily.
* * *
“Tol!” His sister called as soon as he stepped from the transport. He looked toward the sound of her voice and smiled. He had forgotten that she would surely be here, what with her acting as the Earth president’s bodyguard and all.
Then he saw her. She was over a head taller than him and twice as broad, with rippling muscles that moved like snakes under her green-tinted, photosynthetic skin. She wore only a black undershirt and fleet cargo pants. Her right arm was in a sling and a purple, fluid-filled cast covered her forearm.
“Clarice, it’s been ages!” he said and hugged her gently so as to not disturb her wounded arm.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
She pulled the arm from the sling and showed him the colorful cast.
“Six hours and I’ll be as good as new,” she said.
Her strong, feminine jaw-line stiffened and her dark, brown eyes hardened.
“Have you found these blue freaks’ weakness?” she asked, shifting quickly to the matter at hand. He nodded up at her and wished that they had been able to meet under different circumstance. Their brief, pleasant introductory respite was all they were going to get until this matter was resolved. Maybe, if he survived his experiment, they might be able to catch up and spend a little quality time together.
“They call themselves the Gorfini, Chief Moore,” the president said to Clarice as he came to stand beside her. He was a dark skinned man with smile lines at his eyes and large, white teeth. He looked every ounce of the professional in his high-dollar suit.
“Mr. President,” Dr. Moore said with a nod. “I have a plan and I need your blessing so that I might get started.”
The president smiled. “That’s music to my ears Doctor.”
Dr. Moore smiled back, though not in reference to the compliment. Music to the ear was exactly what he had in mind.
“I’ve set up the transport that brought me here. I will leave at once and present myself to the aliens, with your blessing.”
“The hell you will,” his sister said before the president even had the time let Dr. Moore’s words sink in properly.
“I take it that there has still been no response to our hails?” Dr Moore asked after his sister’s protest.
The president and his sister both nodded. She looked downright furious at the thought of him putting himself at the alien’s, the Gorfini’s, mercy. The president just looked thoughtful.
“This is the only way you see to address the situation?” the president asked. “You know we won’t be able to save you if the alien’s decide to attack.”
It was Dr. Moore’s turn to nod. “If I understand things correctly, if the aliens attack nobody is going to be saved.”
“I’m going with you,” his sister said at the heels of his summation of the dire state of affairs.
“Clarice,” Dr. Moore said softly. “I see no reason for you to be there. My plan will either work or we will probably all die.”
The president held up his hands to forestall Clarice.
“Doctor, she’s going. It will make everyone feel better knowing that she is on that transport with you.”
“And besides,” the president continued. “I don’t think we could stop her if we tried.”
* * *
“They don’t know why the alien attacked,” Clarice said as their small ship traveled slowly toward the Gorfini line. “Talks with them had been going well since one of our exploratory ships made contact a few days ago. The face-to-face with the Planetary Council had been a formality before the public announcement.”
“Our prior talks,” Dr. Moore said as he checked and rechecked the experiment setup, “were they auditory only?”
“No,” Clarice said. “We were able to establish some visual communication. We knew what they looked like prior to their arrival.”
Dr. Moore glanced at her worriedly, but didn’t say anything. Two dimensional action and voices over the radio accounted for much in terms of stimuli. He shook his head. Now was no time for him to doubt. Whatever the contact, it mustn’t have been enough to display the gaps between their two races.
An alarm sounded overhead and he tensed.
“One of the Gorfini ships has broken ranks and is approaching our vessel,” Clarice said from the pilot’s chair.
Dr. Moore left the back room of the transport where his experiment was set up and entered the small pilot cabin. He shut the door behind him and gently touched the hard metal that separated him from the room. The fate of their world rested on this working.
“Let me do the talking,” he said and sat in the copilot chair.
* * *
One of the Gorfini was approaching their now stationary ship in a small transport ship of its own. The great, angular hull of the larger Gorfini vessel that had met them between the two lines of ships gave testament to the alien race’s advanced state. That ship, with its sharp, metal sides and its strange, multi-positional propulsion system, not to mention its array of what appeared to be weapons, was unlike anything he had ever seen.
“That was some fast talking you did there, Brother,” Clarice said from beside him. She seemed completely at ease in the situation. He had had his initial misgivings about her coming with him. His view of the military might have been a little tainted, he now saw. He had been worried that she might cause more tension on an already rocky boat. The military were trained in violence, were they not? And his sister was renown in her ability to dish out more violence than any other in all the worlds. But, seeing how she calmly assessed their situation, he now realized that she was much more than just a blunt tool used to get the job done. She was a professional, the best in her field, just like him.
“I’m proud of you,” he said.
She frowned at him. “Tol, I have faith that whatever you have planned will work. You are the smartest man I know.”
He shrugged away the compliment. “We had one of their dead. It was on us to find out what had went wrong. I just convinced them that I might have discovered the problem.”
A beep sounded on the consol. The Gorfini had arrived and was cycling through the airlock. The experiment was about to start.
* * *
“Time for the moment of truth,” Tol said. He stood from the copilot seat. A full minute had gone by since the Gorfini representative had entered the airlock into the back of the ship.
Clarice nodded. “I have your back.”
He glanced down at the vacation clothes he still wore. Somehow, it seemed fitting that he present himself to the Gorfini in such attire. He did feel more like a philosopher than a neuroscientist at the moment.
With a deep breath, he hit the button to slide open the door to the back room then took a single step inside.
He was but one more piece of stimuli on display. To his right stood a holographic image of the statue of ‘The Thinker’ and to his left, against the wall, was a representation of the Mona Lisa. On the walls to either side were scrolling poems, some new and some classic. An instrumental piece from one of the orchestras on K-471 played softly on the air.
The Gorfini walked steadily on the treadmill in the middle of the room.
“Greetings,” Dr. Moore said.
The Gorfini’s long arms swung in a long arc, bent fashion that seemed out of chord with his four-legged walk. Its two outside eyes rolled around the room while its central one focused on Dr. Moore.
He wondered what reality was like for this being. Was it really actively processing all the stimuli in the room? How did it feel?
It smiled, which was both a relief and somewhat disturbing, for it had many pointy, red teeth in its blue-lined mouth.
“Well met, Dr. Moore. I am Yalting, a scientist much like you.”
Some of the tension Dr. Moore hadn’t realized he’d been holding in his shoulders relaxed. He opened his mouth to speak, when Yalting twitched. The nervous tick reminded him of what the last Gorfini representative had done just before it had starting killing people.
“I’m sorry, Dr. Moore, but I cannot stay,” Yalting said haltingly. “You have struck upon the problem and I commend you for it. We will—,” Yalting twitched again.
Dr. Moore stepped back out of the room and Clarice closed the door.
* * *
Security Chief Clarice Moore stood beside Earth’s president as their battle cruiser orbited K-471. And they weren’t alone. Three other cruisers also orbited the planet. The four ships only job was to watch yet another ship. Yalting, the Gorfini scientist, was also in orbit around the planet. His ship, unlike the Gorfini war machines, was a simple, interstellar life boat.
“I hear we interrupted your brother during a vacation he was taking on this very planet,” the president said as he gazed through the viewport showing Yalting’s vessel.
Clarice laughed. “Tol? He is on vacation right now, sir.”
The president shook his head and cupped his prominent chin. “Hard to believe. K-471 is like Paris and Rome and every other place of high culture mixed together. I’ve visited there a few times and will never forget it.”
Clarice let out a slow breath. “Tol’s not that interested in culture. It’s more the nuances of attention to stimuli on our nervous system that gets him excited. He’s been studying it ever since he was a child. I practically have a doctorate myself after hearing him talk about it all these years.”
The president cut his eyes from the viewport to look at Clarice.
“I’m surprised you didn’t bully your way into going with him to the Gorfini home system.”
Clarice shook her head. “I tried. EarthCorp threatened me with a court marshal.” She shrugged. “He will be fine. I imagine he is unbearably excited with his new project.”
“Do you think he will succeed? From what I understood of his report, the Gorfini live in a reality that we cannot hope to ever comprehend.”
Clarice huffed. “You don’t know Tol. Sure, the aliens are different. Their brains have a divided attention set-up that we don’t currently understand. Give him time.”
The president nodded and returned to looking at the small ship that held Yalting. The Gorfini was studying the humans just as Dr. Moore was studying them.
“You have a lot of faith in your brother, Chief.”
Clarice nodded. “I’m a fighter and there is no better. My brother is a scientist.” She paused and looked at the president until he looked at her.
“He is the best. He will conquer the divide that separates us, believe me.”
The president smiled.