August 2013 – unacceptable risk – Accent by Paul Evans

Accent

By Paul Evans

Nearly half a century had passed since distant space was folded to touch our solar system.

Constructed to predict the next asteroid/comet strike, the Radar Gravimetric Early Warning Array detected an unusual stream of objects travelling from known Lagrangian points towards Neptune. The event was immediately noteworthy due to the regularity of the identically sized bodies, and – most perplexingly – that they had no obvious source of origin.

An unmanned probe intercepted one of the objects three months later; identifiable by video feed as a house-sized seed. Interference with the seed heralded arrival of a living moon – the Leviathan – through the artificial wormhole.

Initial race-wide panic simmered to paranoia as the hulk sustained an era of ambivalent inactivity.

Thirty-eight years later, as the seeds performed their hidden purpose beneath the poisonous clouds of Neptune, access sphincters dilated on the Leviathan’s surface, extending an overt invitation to the first human ambassadors.

Linguist specialist Dieter Haas recoiled from the wrath of the towering crablike biped. The creature had entered his modestly sized living area without its customary knock on the fleshy portal. A trailing tube – reminiscent of a spilt intestine – protruded from the Wran’s thorax, providing its air in the human guest’s environment.

Double elbows allowed wrists and hands to retract into its main arm. Typically dormant pincers now snapped in a show of unambiguous hostility.

Haas’s prototype translator app struggled to interpret the creature’s hisses and clicks. The signals retransmitted from his jaw implant to the auditory portion of his central nervous system alluded to a threat, a warning, and Li Xiu Ying.

Ying? What had she done?

Deep in his stomach Haas realised that Ying had dropped them deeply in the shit. Ying was a bioengineer, but Haas long suspected that she had deeper military connections. Despite accepting him as her lover-of-convenience, Ying often required unexplained periods of absolute isolation.

Hours earlier, as the natural bioluminescence of their organic cave (now synchronised to their sleep cycles) had simulated dawn, she was already clad in her habitation suit. A well-practiced low gravity bounce propelled her to his waking form. She kissed her hand and touched his mouth, before lowering her visor and exiting through the first of three airlocks, which distended to accept her.

Haas suspected that she was attempting to steal biotech. The Leviathan’s organic interior made their so-called ‘intelligent plastics’ look Neanderthal. Hearts pumped multicolour materials – including their food and water – through veins of various diameters. Luminescent rocks focussed their light at exposure to the palms of their hands to create holographic consoles. Rudimentary versions of the complex interfaces used by the Wran had been provided for their use. They had gleefully experimented with changing temperature, creating light sculptures and managing communications with their distant race.

The Wran ambassador had never appeared so angry. Just recently they had celebrated the maturity of its sex organs in a religiously bonding ceremony. Part of a symbiotic society, the dog-sized beetle-like Kal scurried everywhere, recycling waste and redundant systems with their hidden mouths and voracious appetites. They also had an unnerving habit of darting into the Wrans’ expansive genitalia, sometimes for hours at a time. Usually maintaining Wran hygiene, the Kal also transferred a form of pollen between the androgynous species, and were vital to Wran reproduction.

On demand, a holographic image shimmered between them: Ying. Haas surmised she was attempting to extract Leviathan stem cells. Silently, she was suddenly enveloped in crawling Kal. They devoured her suit and the brief view of her horrified expression through her smashed visor was mercifully obscured as a beetle attached itself to her face. Haas was morbidly mesmerised. He glimpsed a bloody nipple before her flailing form became an unrecognisable, writhing mass of complete deconstruction.

Inexplicably, Haas hoped the image was not real time and vomited. The puke ejected widely in the low gravity, and propelled him softly upwards. Tearfully, he watched with relief as the crab-being exited, decanting a pollen-laden beetle which set about devouring the bilious effluent.

Weeks later a ship docked with the Leviathan. Robert Martinez alighted and sought the linguist. He regarded the stinking, half naked native with distaste.

“Do you know where she died?”

“I think so.”

“Will you show me?”

“No. Unacceptable risk.”

Martinez nodded and extracted a small pistol – capable of levelling a building at full power – from a concealed holster. Such weapons were strictly forbidden.

“I can protect us,” he reassured Haas smoothly.

A sudden movement made Martinez whirl round, raising his firearm in a fluid motion. The Kal deposited on the day of Ying’s death was still residing in Haas’s living area. It scuttled to the new arrival, probing the unfamiliar scent with its antennae.

Martinez shot it. The Kal exploded in a quiet shower of singed material … and pollen.

A dispenser nozzle, which usually hung from the wall like a limp penis, angled towards the aggressor and sprayed him with a jet of pungent pheromones. Blinded, Martinez fumbled with his firearm.

“They’re coming,” whispered Haas, wide-eyed in terror.

An ominous rumble gained volume from every direction.

“Stand behind me,” commanded Martinez, levelling his pistol at the entryway.

Haas acquiesced.

“We adopt accents for acceptance,” he choked, and clubbed the visitor unconscious with a piece of warped Kal shell.

Martinez was a dead man.

“Please don’t take me too.” Haas repeated as the door-anus shat forth a wave of hungry beetles.

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