Sunday, December 25, 2016

From Interstellar Pirate to Cosmic Castaway.

Rick Telemon made a mad dash for the encampment once he got the “Bug Out” signal.  But he stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the alien waiting there.  
And, strangest thing of all…  It was looking at him.  
Rick leaned against the opening to the enclosure the pirate crew he’d joined had chosen for their encampment.  Something like a mud brick wall.  The only enclosure in the K’kuthrrup village, or town, hamlet, whatever you would call it, that had a roof overhead.  
On the far side, facing him, was a K’kuthrrup.  Close to three meters tall.  Bulging sensor cluster at the top of its head.  A huge patch of the stalks they extended converted to visual sensors.  All of them pointed at him.  
As his lungs huffed and heaved and struggled to draw in enough of the tenuous gases that passed for atmosphere on this planet, Rick wondered if this creature was the reason for the Bug Out.  The K’kuthrrup had not paid the humans scurrying amongst them, like squirrels in a forest, the slightest attention.  Except for their reaction when “Captain Jack,” their leader introduced himself to them, they’d not reacted to anything the crew had done.  Now, one of them was standing there.  Seemingly waiting for him.  Watching him.
Rick stood still.  Only his heart, beating in his chest, and his lungs, forcing him to take short gasps of air lest he pass out, and his legs, starting to tremble from the forced effort to run with a full backpack of samples and testing equipment, were the parts of his body still evidencing motion.  
Was this the reason for the bug-out?  The thought was just there, pushed into consideration by the astonishment he was feeling to find one of the natives of this planet in their encampment.  They had given only the barest of signs that they had noticed them after they and landed and disembarked.  
Rick took one deep breath and blew it out, trying to calm himself.  He reached for his waist to pull his PA free.  He thumbed his personal assistant to life.  The screen told him the CommNet signal was lost, and that there were no open networks.  
“That’s because they’ve grounded the aerostat and packed it in the SSTO before launch.”  There was a timer running since he’d received the call to grab his data and get to the landing site ASAP!  It had been twenty minutes since he started sprinting back to the encampment.  Six minutes after he’d bee strolling back from the K’kuthrrup sewage city taking samples before he got in range of the aerostat’s signal.  Figure another forty minutes to get to the landing site at the local north end of the village…?  
“I’ve got time.”  Rick nodded to himself.  He slapped his PA back on to his waist.  Not a lot of time, no.  But time.  His gear was against the far wall.  
Right next to the K’kuthrrup that was standing there.  Watching him.  
“Fine.”  Rick forced himself to ignore the tall, broccoli-looking alien and picked his way through the scattered equipment the crew had apparently decided to leave behind.  He knelt down next to his cot, the only one still set up and standing.  He pulled his locker out from underneath.  
They hadn’t tried to open it themselves.  Rick didn’t know that was a sign of some level of decency on their part, or an estimation of the value of the data he’d collected.  The whole point of coming to this world was to rob it of whatever data they could find and sell in Human Diasporic Space.  Maybe find a protein that would make people immortal.  Or a spice that would make crap taste like a banquet.  If you could get it to market before the big info-conglomerates that had the rights to explore this world could do so, you could make a killing.  
Rick put his thumb on the ID tab.  He leaned over to let it scan his eyes.  “Open Sesame,” he whispered, giving it his password and a sample of his voice to compare.  
The lid popped open.  He reached it to dig out the data blocks he stored there.  He felt something tickling his earlobe.  He reached up to smooth down his collar with he felt something, a cord from his backpack…?  Laying across his shoulder.  He craned his head to look.  
And found himself looking into a small, beady, alien eye.  
“JEEZ!”  Rick slapped it away.  He crab-walked backwards, his back pushing overturned crates and violently disassembled furniture out of the way.  
The K’kuthrrup pulled hits sensor stalk up into the air.  It hung there, like a image of someone using a bullwhip, curved like an S over Rick’s head.  In then retracted the stalk until its eye nestled back in its place amongst the others in its sensor cluster.  
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”  HIs heart was hammering once more.  The K’kuthrrup eyes stared back at him.  Their eyes had no lids, but they could convert to other sense organs, like miniature ears, or feathery looking taste/smell sensors.  Right now, though, it looked like a bunch of snails were peeking at him from a windblown field of grass.  
Rick took in something else now, too.  The K’kuthrrup wasn’t standing there.  It was leaning there.  Against the wall next to where his cot was.  And it’s tentacles, limbs that looked and acted like the trunks of elephants, were hanging limply by its sides.  K’kuthrrup would extrude them at need, withdrawing them into their bodies when they were done handling whatever they wanted to handle.  
“Are you…  Sick?”  And, was it something they had done?  Something harmless to them, but which left K’kuthrrup like this?  Rick imagined a forest of K’kuthrrup marching about.  Like Birnam Wood, only they were coming for him instead of Macbeth.  
Rick shook his head.  What mattered now was to get to the landing site.  Keeping one eye on the K’kuthrrup, he crawled back to his locker.  He dug out the three data blocks where he’d stored his work on potential food products and additives.  He shoved them into his empty pouches on his pants.  Crabbing backwards, he watched the K’kuthrrup until he felt safe enough to get to his feet.  
That’s when the K’kuthrrup extended a sensor stalk again.  Rick backed away as it came toward him…  Ten…  Fifteen…  Twenty meters.  
The little eye was pointed right at him.  Feathery chem-sensors opened around it.  They separated, two down, two to the sides.
“What the…  Hell…?”  It was a tiny figure.  A little person, with the eye forming the head and the four feathery strands, the limbs.  
He knew where the being was getting it from.  The day they’d landed.  “Captain Jack” had marched right up to the closest grove of K’kuthrrup after debarking from the SSTO.  He got within two meters of them.  Planted his feet.  Flung his arms out wide.
“Humans have come to meet you!”  
The echo of his shout reverberated off the narrow canyon walls that surrounded the K’kuthrrup town.  A rippling reaction ran through the K’kuthrrup.  A cloud of eyes exploded from each being’s sensor cluster.  A flurry of sensor stalks lashed about overhead in an orgy of grabbing, tangling, releasing and grabbing again.  A living netting above them.
That was the biggest reaction they ever got from them.  The only sign they were aware of our presence, Rick thought.  Until now.
Rick looked past the human stick-figure floating before him to the cluster of alien eyes staring at him.  Had this one been in that grove?  Had this image been transferred to all the others?  What was It…  He…  She…?  Trying to say by showing it to him now?
And the bigger question, did any of that matter with time running out?  
The K’kuthrrup stretched its image of a human even closer to him…  Then, made it turn and face the area of the enclosure to Rick’s right.  It swung the little person back toward him.  It moved forward again, then turned toward Rick’s right.  
It held the figure there.  Facing that way.  The dozens of other eyes in its sensor cluster stayed locked on him, watching.  
“What?!”  The eyes in the K’kuthrrup’s cluster flinched at his shout.  It was too late.  Maybe, when they’d landed.  When he still had romantic dreams about being a pirate-explorer…  He remembered Captain Jack’s admonishment to him. 
“We’re here to steal, Telemon.  Remember that.  Even if we’re taking what they think is trash, we’re keeping the money for ourselves.”  He added a sly wink as a period at the end.
And Captain Jack was warming up the SSTO for launch right now.  Rick’s body dragged itself another step toward the enclosure’s opening.  
The K’kuthrrup swung the stick-figure back toward him.  It pulled it backwards, as Rick had been moving.  Then It made take a deliberate turn…
That way.  Rick found himself facing the far wall of the enclosure, just like the little person the K’kuthrrup had formed.  Their sample collection.  Most in crates.  Some, like the gourds the K’kuthrrup liked to suck on, in big piles.  
“You…  Want something?”  Rick edged closer to the area.  He waved a hand to encompass it.  “Something…  Over here?”
The K’kuthrrup didn’t move.  The little person faced the area.  The K’kuthrrup stared at him.  
Damn!  Give me a clue or something…  Rick looked around.  Ignore the stuff in crates.  Assume K’kuthrrup couldn’t see inside them.  What did that leave?  Ore samples.  Cuttings from plants.  The gourds pulled from their “convenience stores” where they pulled them.  An open box of K’kuthrrup feces, actually edible and nutritious, Rick had done the tests himself.  
Rick looked back at the little pyramid of gourds.  Food.  He looked back over his shoulder at the K’kuthrrup.  He put a hand on the gourd on top of the pile, a big, juicy one with red and green stripes on its husk.  
“This?  You want this?”  
The K’kuthrrup made the little man retreat, then rush forward.    
“Then, here…”  He grabbed the gourd and tossed it at K’kuthrrup.  “Enjoy.”  
It landed with a mushy, “Thud!”  It rolled, bounced off the skirt of the K’kuthrrup’s trunk.  It stopped against the massive, root-like limb it used to pull itself along the ground.  
The K’kuthrrup made the little person shaped from its sensor stalk retreat, then go forward again.  
“You’re not in a position to be picky!”  Leave!  Leave!  Just Go!  He ignored his shouts inside his head.  There were dozens of varieties of gourds.  Maybe one was medicine.  Maybe one would cure the K’kuthrrup of what ailed it and made it come inside here, alone, apart from the others.  
“Ok!  Fine!”  
Rick grabbed the gourds two at a time.  He flung them at the alien.  He didn’t even aim.  Just kept tossing until at least one of each time was thrown at the creature.  Just kept tossing into the entire pile was scattered before it.  
Rick looked back at it.  The K’kuthrrup wasn’t holding up its tiny representation of a man any more.  It was poking the stalk into the pile of gourds before its skirt.  It reminded Rick of a dog sniffing at something.
“You found something you like?  Good!”  But as Rick watched, he could see another problem.  The extruded tentacles along its side began twitching and spasming, but didn’t seem to have the power to lift themselves up to do any work.  And its sensor stalks were too thin and weak to lift even the smallest gourd.  
“Shit…”  Rick cursed himself as he moved toward the K’kuthrrup, dancing around and over the scattered gourds.  
“Which one?  Which one is it?”  The sensor stalk, the little man now gone, was tapping one with green and yellow blotches on it.  “This?  This is it?”  
Rick grabbed it.  He shoved the other gourds out of the way and reached for the edge of the trunk’s skirt.  He’d seen K’kuthrrup feeding on them and knew where their feeding mouth was located.  
He held the edge of the skirt up.  The K’kuthrrup extended its mouth.  Rick’s winced at the sight.  It resembled else more than female genitalia.  Except where the “little man in the escape pod” was supposed to be, the K’kuthrrup had a wicked looking pointed tusk.  
Rick held the gourd while the K’kuthrrup brought its feeding tusk down against the gourd’s husk.  A weak tap.  Followed by a scratching sound as the tip tried to bore its way through.  
“Shit…!”  Rick let go of the skirt.  He pulled his utility tool from his belt and popped out the blade.  He stabbed the gourd and twisted.  Thick, yellow liquid, like glue, oozed out of the wound.  It smelled like cleaning fluid.  
“There!”  He shoved it under the skirt, jamming it in so it held the skirt up.  He spotted two more of the same variety.  He stabbed them both, twisted the blade, then pushed them in beside the first.  
“I’m done!  You hear me? That’s it!”  The K’kuthrrup continued to stare at him.  Rick could hear a sucking sound, like a baby at its mother’s breast.  
Rick turned and ran from the encampment.  He didn’t even bother to check the time.
He just reached the outer wall of the K’kuthrrup town when he heard the SSTO engine’s start.  He’d been shouting into his PA for the last hundred meters, trying to raise someone on board.  
A percussive blast, like a giant fist, punched him in the chest.  A burning wind slapped him in the face, fingers of sand and grit poking out his eyes.  He turned and huddled against the outside wall.  The taste of burnt metal and dirt filled his mouth.  
Once he cleared the crud from his eyes, he looked up.  The SSTO was the point of a high intensity torch, with a piss-poor weld of black cloud closing the rent it made in the sky.  
Rick slumped back.  He felt nothing as the SSTO rolled and arched into the blue-black sky above.  He’d start cursing later.
He sat there once the SSTO winked out.  He nodded.  He’d gone from pirate to castaway.  Oh-kay…  Just…  Fine.

Rick got to his feet and headed back toward the encampment.  He wondered what sort of roommate the K’kuthrrup would be.  


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