Friday, April 28, 2017

Whence Came This Tupperware?

Responding to this writing prompt from Lilith Saintcrow...

I'll just drop it here, pulsed Heerath, setting the scanner between a rock and one of the oddly-tall local plants, by the side of one of the human roads.

What? Nebath pulsed back. Don't do that. It's right out in the open.

That's why we shaped it, remember? Heerath felt its antennae flex with annoyance. It looks just like one of their artifacts.

Do you even know what kind of artifact it resembles? Nebath had turned, creating a faint shimmer in the air despite the best efforts of its active camouflage. One of the humans was approaching rapidly, accompanied by one of the various domestic animals that the race apparently cultivated. If it's shaped to resemble their detritus, they'll likely dispose of it. If it's shaped to resemble something useful, they'll take it for their own use. They're not going to just leave it lying there.

Heerath rippled its tendrils in irritation. Esteemed Xenosociologist Teer selected this shape as one of the items that the humans would ignore. Of course, Esteemed Xenosociologist Teer also theorized that the humans kept these other species around for religious reasons, and Heerath felt pretty safe in assuming that meant that the xenosociologist had no idea why the humans seemed to prefer to live with lower lifeforms. Explorers were forbidden to argue with any of the Prime, but that didn't mean that Esteemed Xenosociologist Teer had any idea what he was talking about.

Nebath didn't argue, though. The human approaches, it pulsed back. We'll know soon enough.

They backed away, moving across the street. The denizens of this world had a very limited sensory range, and their active camouflage should have kept them undetectable; but every explorer had been trained with the reflex that distance equated to safety when confronted with the unknown. As far as Heerath was concerned, there was far too much about this world that fell into that category, and Nebath evidently agreed.

The human slowed, then stopped and looked down at the scanner.

I told you, pulsed Nebath.

Heerath sent back the brief, minuscule pulse that demanded silence.

The human stood for a long moment, regarding the scanner. Doubtless the xenobiology cohort was ecstatic, in their analysis-space back on the ship. So much data, gathered at such close range...

The quadruped made a little hopping motion, pulling at the strand that connected it to the human's manipulator, and the human glanced at it. Then the human turned its head back to the scanner and pulled a device from its belt. Something flickered, and Heerath and Nebath both made themselves very still.

Then the quadruped pulled ahead, and this time the human went along with it.

What was that? Heerath knew it sounded nervous.

Neerath curled its tendrils. A brief flare of electromagnetic radiation in a very tight set of wavelengths.

Did it just... Heerath paused, considering the implications. Did it just scan our scanner?

I think so, yes.

Using what?

Nebath rippled its tendrils, the gesture puzzled and slightly frantic. I don't know. A burst of electromagnetic on that frequency wouldn't penetrate much of anything, but I didn't detect whatever else it was using.

This is bad. Heerath settled its tendrils by an act of will. All right, we're going to abort. I'll retrieve the scanner. You call for extraction.

Agreed, pulsed Nebath, then began configuring itself for a deep pulse. Heerath crossed the street and lifted the scanner, risking a momentary break in its active camouflage so it could conceal the scanner underneath. By the time Nebath had finished the call, Heerath had returned and was waiting.

They had only a brief wait. The scout ship settled over them, its cone-shape rendered theoretically undetectable by its own active camouflage. It manifested a floor beneath them, and began a cautious ascent back to the August Science Vessel. I'll inform the Primes that we must make a full withdrawal, pulsed Heerath. This planet is dangerous.

I offer my ardent agreement to your assessment, Nebath pulsed back. As far as Heerath was concerned, that settled the matter. An Explorer Second could offer correction, provide additional insights, or outright disagree with the conclusions of an Explorer First, but a unanimous finding would not be ignored even by the Primes. The study would be abandoned, the planet marked as unacceptably dangerous, and the August Science Vessel withdrawn to study some safer prospect.

A brief wind stirred the dust on the street below. Somewhere, a dog was barking.

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