“We’ve got two possible candidates,” Process Officer Trebor said after she consulted her data. “They’re in one system and both display the necessary polar caps of solid dihydrogen monoxide. We should check the larger one first.”
Skipper gave her a curt nod and said, “Bring us there.”
“Aye, Sir.” PO Trebor chose the northern cap of the larger planet. It was on the night-side; any evaporation would be at a minimum. She delivered the coordinates to Jump Officer Nevets.
JO Nevets acknowledged the data receipt and spun the ship’s drive. The universe moved around the ship and in an instant they were on the surface of the newly discovered planet.
“Nicely done,” Skipper said and scanned the ship’s racing datafeed as the various sensors went to work. The atmosphere was primarily nitrogen and oxygen. Breathable. Pressure and temperature, while not ideal, were acceptable. There was evidence of some minor long-wavelength radiation. None of it originated nearby, and none of it had yet been detected by the station at Korison, only ten light years away from this planet. It could be fluke, or there could be a burgeoning civilization already located here.
“PO Trebor,” Skipper asked, “Is this world inhabited?”
“It’s possible, Skipper,” PO Trebor answered. “No one in the Council has mapped it. The sentience detector isn’t registering anything above a level one awareness.”
Skipper thought for a moment. He’d had doubts about the sentience detector ever since it failed to log the Soltas, a highly organized, hard-shelled sea dwelling creature on Ivari Xi. The individuals hadn’t had much intelligence, but combined as a whole, they had caused much trouble for the settlers. Ivari Xi had eventually been abandoned, and the Council had said it was due to economic restraints, not the Soltas. Skipper hadn’t believed their final report.
“Okay, let’s suit up,” Skipper said, deciding to take a chance on this new planet.
“Aye, Sir,” the two officers said in unison. Protective gear closed around their fragile limbs, shielding them from a possible environmental misreading. He tucked his KT-1 stunner into the back of his belt band. He left it at its medium setting, strong enough to handle most of the creatures he had come across during his explorations.
At Skipper’s command, PO Trebor hit the airlock switch. The seal was verified and the ship’s horizontal hatch parted. The three ventured forth. Their protective gear did not allow them to smell or taste the air, but it appeared crystal clear and delicious. PO Trebor set about collecting samples.
The landscape was a mostly flat sheet relieved by occasional dips and mounds. During the day it would no doubt sparkle and magnify the light of the mid-temperature star this planet orbited. In the night, the surface glowed silver. PO Trebor showed Skipper her sensor’s readings. The dihydrogen monoxide was almost pure. Skipper imagined a metropolis of domed structures spanning from horizon to horizon.
A low tremor caught his attention. “Something comes,” Skipper said.
The three gathered together and watched the indigenous creature approach. Its white coat blended perfectly into the landscape. Its large black eyes and triangular nose seemed to hover unsupported above the landscape. Smaller versions of the creature stumbled and rolled in its wake. Skipper checked the sentience detector himself. Just as PO Trebor had said, it was below a level one reading. “JO Nevets,” Skipper said, “initiate contact.”
“Aye, Sir.” JO Nevets reached out with his mind to form a telepathic link. After a moment he said, “I’m getting nothing.”
“Let us all try,” Skipper said. The creatures were rather larger than the Skipper and his crew. Their leisurely approach was non-threatening, but Skipper adjusted the stunner on his belt.
Draining though it was, the three reached out together. Nothing returned to them except the subtle glimmer of environmental awareness. There was a curious undercurrent to its thoughts as it lumbered towards them. The smaller offspring were completely dependent on the larger.
Quadrapeds, the mother rolled back and took the final two steps upright on her hind legs. She towered above them. Her black nose pointed into the air, nostrils flexed and then relaxed.
Wary, Skipper extended a long, thin arm to the natives and kept the other poised near his stunner. He sent a greeting and a request to remain in the territory.
Without warning, with no time for him to react, one of the giant’s two front legs jutted out and grabbed Skipper’s arm with such force that he swung up into the air towards the native.
“Aaaiiieee,” he let out an involuntary scream.
“Skipper!” PO Trebor yelled and fumbled for her own stunner. PO Trebor watched in horror as the large native caught Skipper in her massive maw. Her jaws clamped down on his torso and severed him in two. His protective gear was no match for her strength. His legs fell to the ground, twitching with the end of life.
The ground stained yellow with his life essence. In her periphery, PO Trebor saw JO Nevets running back towards the ship. Her hand closed around her stunner. A vice-like grip encased her own torso. Too late.
PO Trebor sailed through the air. She caught sight of the large native and realized it was one of the smaller ones that toyed with her. The other small one had JO Nevets in its grip. With her last thoughts, PO Trebor reached out telepathically and sent the new data to the ship, along with the command for it to return home. This system was home to hostile primitives. The last thing PO Trebor heard, as the small one bit down on her, was the ship’s drive engaging.
The small, oblong ship glowed bright for a second, bathing the arctic landscape in green light. Then it disappeared with a resounding pop. In the yellow-stained snow, the polar bear and her cubs settled down to enjoy their intergalactic snack.
A spinner of yarns, weaver of stories, and embroiderer of truths, Annie Tupek‘s two passions in life are writing and fiber arts. Her short work has appeared in The First Line Magazine, Courting Morpheus (a horror anthology), and The Pacific Northwest Reader. By day, she is a buyer and office assistant at an independent bookseller. Her nights are lit by the pale blue glow of a computer screen. She lives in Fairbanks, Alaska with a husband and spoiled English Mastiff.