Alien Matters

"It's a god-awful small affair, to the girl with the
mousy hair ...", echoed the song, noisy and
distorted, a ripple in time, a relic of an ancient
world many light years past. Sometimes I would
point the radio telescope at random positions in
the astral sphere just to see what I could find and
would pick up an occasional pulsar or other
astrophysical phenomenon and occasionally
transmissions from an ancient civilisation. These
days of course we use subspace tachyonics. I
should explain that many of these old
civilisations have been studied by academics, or if
not then by computer, and their languages
decoded. It is a simple matter to translate these
old transmissions into any known language using
the Galaxy Net. That is with at least one
exception. I found a strange world broadcasting a
weak signal 0.6 stellar cycles ago. It is only some
20 light-years from here, but the computer has
been unable to decode it and it doesn't even flag
as a military encrypted message.

I should say that 'here' is a small world on the
edge of known space; an almost forgotten world
about which I set my small starship in orbit whilst
deploying the shuttle craft to auto-construct a
modest abode on the surface, in which I currently
sit. I could have landed my main ship on the
surface, but that's a tricky procedure with a crew
of one, for a ship that size.

Anyway, let me give you a quick tour of my
humble abode. There are two rooms below
surface and two above. Below, we have the main
living quarters, excavated by robot in the soft red
soil of the planet and coated in quick-setting
resin, a quick and easy process, all automatic! A
mattress on the floor for a bed, with a desk and
chair. On my desk is a computer-link to the
mother ship, so I can talk to Zaza, the
androgynous ship's computer. Down here is a
quiet place to be during a storm, and storms are
quite common here. The atmosphere outside is a
little thin, due to the planet's fairly low gravity,
but in here the air conditioner generates a bit of
pressure. Grav generators also make it feel more
homely in here, though it is fun to feel so light
and strong outside, bounding about from place to
place! However, most of the fun stuff is in my
little topside lab, adjoined to the conservatory you
came in through. Let me show you before I
continue my story.

As you can see the conservatory doubles up as a
dining room, and kitchen thanks to this small
auto-cooker, especially in bad weather. I prefer to
cook and eat outside whenever I can, however.
Some of these native 'plants' are quite exotic, like
these photosynthetic slimes which crawl up
objects to reach the light. Or like these gelatinous
goblet-like structures. Slimes of one sort or
another dominate this planet's ecosystem. I
suppose the gravity is low so bones and wood
aren't really needed. There are those strange
fungal like trees, however, which you can see
through the porthole over yonder, swaying
hypnotically in the breeze. There look! See those
larger slime creatures with tentacles? They seem
to tend those fungal 'gardens' in some way. That
brings me to how my story began. Take a seat, let
me pour you a glass of  home-brew! Oh, it's quite
safe. It's brewed from a certain nectar which drips
from one of the plants that grows locally ... I have
analysed it in the spec and it contains only good
things.

You see, the irony is I came here, to the 'edge of
space', to get away from it all. Away from the
Planetary Federation, as it was then. They bother
people too much, always trying to direct people's
lives in ways that seem only to benefit the elite of
the mega-corporations. Too many petty laws, a
disrespect for knowledge of the real world. By
'real' I don't mean the world of bank-credit, as so
many seem to think, but rather the world that has
been for eons: the natural world. How strange it
is that people busy themselves with dry business
matters, as if nothing else existed, when their
'real' world is nothing but an artifice, at the end of
the day. They rush through life, focusing on
gathering wealth, and yet if they succeed they
don't seem to know what to spend their credit on,
so they invest it to make more credits, because, I
presume, that's all they know. They really don't
know what they are missing. The majesty and
ingenuity of the natural world is beyond all other
things we can know.

We are surrounded by a cosmos of fantastic
life-forms, extraordinary machines, that have
changed and adapted over millennia, and still,
most don't even know what exists in their own
back yards. Or even in their own bodies for that
matter. Not everyone wants to be a scientist, of
course, and probably just as well, but you'd think
they would at least take some interest in the real
world. Then there are the 'do-gooders' who think
that doing good is to punish everyone who
disagrees with their idea of 'right and wrong' and
lobby the administration to do this for them.
Anyway, politicians corrupted the legal system a
long time ago.

Don't get me wrong though, I don't think that I
am better than them, just different. For all my
disillusionment with their world, I can see that
they do what they do because they are
programmed to. Programmed by instinct to do
what enables them to survive, which is the
ultimate goal of life after all. Thus, they strive to
fit in and belong to the 'group', including
believing in all the nonsense ideas that
characterise society. You see, those that belong
do prosper, at least genetically speaking. They
pass on their genes. Pity though that the ruling
classes can exploit their well-intentioned instincts
so easily and write programs of their own in
people's minds. People should invest in better
firewalls! So, despite being different and less well
adapted to materially prosper, I am glad to be a
mutant of sorts. I see my weaknesses as my
strengths also. Actually, I think something went
wrong in the bio-factory when they made me.
You see, I come from a line of synthetic life-forms
in which developmental and genetic processes are
randomised, to some degree, to make us all
unique! But, being unique can be lonely.

So, I came here to carry on my studies.
Eventually I might move on to another remote
world, but there is much more I want to learn
about this one first. Studying nature on pristine
worlds entertains me without end. Here take a
look at this specimen on the bioscope ... It's a
single-celled organism from this planet. You will
never see a cell quite like it on any other world.
Cells tend to share certain things in common, on
any world, but they also have novel ways of doing
things, often with novel materials and
mechanisms. With these instruments I can probe
the inner workings of a cell, the levers, wheels,
capacitors, motors, signal networks, and all the
other machinery! It never fails to impress me how
similar patterns of life repeat around the cosmos,
whilst also varying in infinite ways.

I was sitting here on this scope that evening,
whilst listening to music intercepted from deep
space, after an afternoon observing the slimes
and their fungus gardens and collecting samples.
I was pondering the physical nature of the slimes,
how new tentacles can split off from their bodies
at will and be reabsorbed again when no longer
needed; and how they collect and carry food to
their subterranean fungal gardens. They simply
absorb packets of food they find on the surface
and then deliver them to the fungus, which is also
fed by the methane rich volcanic streams that
flow deep beneath the ground. You should see
the fungal gardens! Not risking venturing deep
into the caverns myself, I have sent in a remote
probe. They are truly beautiful and otherworldly,
all aglow in bioluminescence! I had managed to
collect a small tissue sample without injuring one
of the creatures - ethics are very important to me
as a scientist - and I was analysing it, pondering
how this alien matter was much like cellular
protoplasm, but with additional structural
adaptations which had overcome the problems of
large size.

Anyway, I must have dozed off, which is very
unusual for me as my excitement can keep me
concentrating for hours at a stretch, but I must
have dozed off because I had a bizarre dream, or
was it a vision? I was flying through space,
nothing extraordinary so far, spacefarers often
have such dreams. I was drifting past a multitude
of worlds. It was a vivid dream, but it soon turned
strange, as my sense of awe turned to a nagging
anxiety, as if something ominous lay in my path.

I came to a darkened world and I was flying
through its atmosphere. Thick dark clouds hung
claustrophobically in a red sky, hemming in an
oppressive air. Grey mists swirled threateningly,
parting to reveal sinister ruins. Shattered spires of
black stone, decorated with curious designs in
some greenstone like malachite. Buildings like
curious globules stacked upon one-another and
an impossible looking construction like an
inverted pyramid of black glass, but all in ruins
with rubble-strewn streets. I was drawn towards a
certain dark tower, towards its cavernous
entrance, flanked by rows of columns. Dread
gripped me and although I resisted I could not
stop myself drifting towards it. I became aware of
a foul odour, like sulphur and ammonia, but rank
like decay. I began to feel nauseated, but in
through the entrance I drifted. I came to a vast
chamber, like a public space, filled with rows of
shelves. I thought it was like a library, and
plastic-looking plates filled the shelves: some
type of holographic medium I thought. I became
aware of exaggerated sounds, clicking and
scraping sounds and panic made me turn for a
moment to behold an orange and black mass
slumped in one corner, and the sounds were
coming from dreadful black spider-like creatures
that tugged and ripped at it. With a sickening
nausea that I could taste and smell, I realised
what this was: an alien corpse! I was soon drawn
inexorably towards a dark archway leading to
another chamber. I became partly aware that I
was dreaming, but as is often the case that did
little to still my fear and anxiety, for the dream
still seemed real. Weary of resisting, I decided to
surrender to the unfolding dreamscape. Normally
in such a dream I would be fighting to wake
myself.  In through the archway I drifted.

A mixture of curiosity and a growing sense of
justice braced me. I wanted to know what had
happened to this planet and its inhabitants and
whether there were any left alive. What was
drawing me in? I demanded answers! However, I
was not prepared for the scene that unfolded
before me in the dim light. I was in a large hall.
The space was clear, except for a bank of
computers along the far wall and before them,
seated in a great chair, was the thing that had
drawn me to it.

Snakelike locks hung from a great head, gently
wavering. Orange sinuous veins wormed their
course beneath a black, moist skin and across one
great eye, flanked by four smaller eyes. All five
eyes stared unblinkingly. The mouth a fleshy
beak, opened and closed slightly to reveal an
orange tongue. Was it savouring an awaited feast
or was it speaking silent words? The frame
seemed giant, at least from my disembodied
perspective. Essentially humanoid in form, a
biped. Its torso adorned by a sash bearing a red
and silver logo I couldn't quite picture. I often
find it hard to read words and symbols in dreams.
Orange wart-like scales or papillae adorned the
black skin along its arms. In one of its great
hands rested a curious sphere of pulsing, strobing
light.

As alien as its appearance was, I have seen so
many aliens that I should not have been startled.
Maybe it was the great size, or the fact I was  
being drawn toward it, or the sinister atmosphere
that hung over this whole world. Whatever the
trigger in my psyche, I felt a terrible dread and
something more - a dread of oblivion! Drawn in
towards the strobing light I felt a wave of panic
and then awoke at last.

Despite the sinister nature of my dream I found it
somewhat entertaining in retrospect. Other than
that I thought no more of it. Until, that is, I had
almost the same dream again two spin-cycles,
that is two days, later. Once again the vision came
whilst I was tuning in to distant transmissions
during my bioscope work on the alien samples.

Just as before, I was unable to recall the point at
which I began to drift from full consciousness.
Again I flew through space and then over a
ruined, though now familiar, alien cityscape.
Again I came to the library at which moment I
realised I was dreaming a familiar dream. At this
point I became aware again of the giant creature
drawing me towards it. A creepy, rank sensation
of decay gave way to increasing fear as I sensed
pending doom. Moments later, however, my fear
was overshadowed by an overpowering sense of
desolation. Was I facing the being that had
destroyed civilisation on this far away planet? At
this point my desolation gave way to anger. I
intended to demand answers of this creature, but
as I was pulled towards it I tried hard to see the
logo on its sash: a red eye inside a silver cube,
drawn in outline. At that point I awoke.

This time the dream played on my waking mind. I
was initially annoyed that I had not solved the
mystery of the ruined city and the giant creature
sitting in its throne-like chair. Then I reminded
myself that it was just a dream, but then I became
annoyed that twice I had fallen asleep during my
work, which was not normal for me. The
medi-scanner revealed no neural anomalies
(other than those I already knew were
characteristic of my usual self). I searched for the
simple logo, but found no exact matches. Why
should I, when it was just a dream? I have had
strange dreams repeat before. It was curious
though that on both occasions the dream was so
lucid. I decided I had been working a bit too hard
and rested the next cycle; well I did a little bit of
study as I find it hard to keep my scientific
curiosity in check, but generally I rested.

I rested the next cycle too, but that night the
vision played back in a dream as I slept. This time
it was more dreamlike, though I was aware that
my mind was trying to solve this riddle as i slept.
My conclusion seemed inescapable - the sinister
and morbid feelings of anxiety and dread I
experienced every time I moved towards the
seated being in the great hall meant my
subconscious was telling me that this dreadful
creature had annihilated the world of black-stone
cities. At the same time this monstrous being
seemed a part of this world, as if it was its own
people it had destroyed! Where would it go next?
Maybe something or someone was trying to warn
me.

For the next couple of cycles I largely forgot about
the vision, which now seemed a remote dream, a
mere fantasy. One morning, only three cycles
ago, I ventured into one of the caverns to observe
the slimes. This planet is full of holes! Old vents
where geysers outgased long ago as the planet
warmed from its frozen embryonic state, perhaps
as it moved nearer to the central star or as an
atmosphere began to form. I sent a probe down
one of these holes: a small hovering robot like a
mechanical dragonfly with cameras for eyes. I
used it to follow a slime as it slowly crept through
a narrow cavern and emerged into one of their
subterranean fungal gardens. The
bioluminescent fungi are nourished by the food
brought to them and the warm volcanic currents
of water and ammonia that still flow not far
beneath the surface. It was a spectacular site.
Some of the fungi grew along the walls and hung
down from the stalagtites like glowing strands of
slime, whilst another form, like columns of
glowing globules stacked one upon the other
covered the cavern floor, except for the narrow
paths the gardeners used. Then I saw it. A slime
must have brought it in along with food for the
fungi which it had absorbed whilst foraging on
the surface and then deposited it amongst its
crop. A bright orange metallic sphere, about 30
centimetres across, glittering in the
bioluminescence of the cavern. As I moved the
probe closer, the insignia stood out on my
monitor screen as clear as day: a red eye inside
the frame of a silver cube.

I should have prepared a larger probe to go in and
retrieve the sphere silently, but I simply could
wait no longer. I took a climbing rope and
determined to retrieve the sphere at once! I prefer
not to disturb the slimes, but I feared they might
remove the object and carry it off someplace else.
They are also not defenceless, though they
appear to have no major predators, being the
dominant life form on this small planet, their
tentacles can release a caustic foam. They were
never aggressive when I observed them above the
surface, but I was about to enter their lair where
they keep their crops. I dropped down quickly
and jogged through the cavern, edging nervously
through the narrow passage which should still be
clear, entered the fungus garden and retrieved
the globe faster than the crawling slimes could
react, if indeed they even noticed me.

I took only minimum quarantine precautions
considering I was handling an unknown alien
artefact. Back in the lab I secured the device in a
controlled energy field, recalling that the early
visions were like some kind of warning. I ran
standard tests. No sign of alien micro-organisms
on the sphere's surface, or of excessive radiation
or chemical toxins, so at least the outside was
safe. Girdling the equator of the sphere was what
appeared to be an anti-gravity belt, now
dysfunctional. The eye appeared to be some sort
of sensor or transmitter. The globe showed signs
of damage where a scattering of small objects had
impacted and sputtered over the surface, leaving
minute pits. It must have been in space when the
particles, perhaps cometary dust impacted the
sphere. 'Surely it must be a probe!' I thought. A
group of metal circles at one pole could be
magnetic rivets or screws. Scans revealed a
curious mass of optical circuitry, and there was
still a small power source which was active!
Surely this was no weapon.

Well to cut a long story short, in the end I opened
up the sphere and connected its quantum
circuitry to Zaza. It took Zaza a whole cycle to
decode its memory banks. It was indeed a space
probe from afar. It would periodically transmit a
code, albeit weaker than intended due to the
damage to the probe. It had early managed to
send a signal to my radio telescope receiver, but
not the old-fashioned type of radio signal but
some kind of 'telepathic signal'. I discovered this
when tuning into distant radio signals, in my
accustomed manner, only this time the proximity
of the sphere caused a noticeable, but regular
distortion in the signal. Using the radio as a
conduit or amplifier it had somehow relayed a
message to my mind. I confess I do not fully
understand this advanced method of
communication. Zaza, however, was able, after a
number of attempts, to play the message direct. It
was a simple communication request and when
acknowledged it activated a surprising stream of
signals, broadcast live across the immensity of
space in almost no time at all. Now Zaza
understood the message directly and constructed
a primitive audio link for me, a two-way link that
is, so that I could communicate directly with a
certain alien far, far away.

Perhaps if my mind had been more receptive to
telepathic signals I would have understood the
message straight away. Instead the creature had
been trying to contact me for some time. Her
story follows. Her name is Tsijugoga, she is a
professor of astrobiology at the Federal Institute
of Astrobiology, on the planet Hagoli, whose logo
is a red eye inside a silver cube - the curious eye
viewing the cosmos from within. Hagoli was
blasted a few years ago by radiation from an
exploding neutron star. Most of its inhabitants
died instantly, but a few survived in the City of
Mirmas on the far side of the planet. However,
damaged by radiation their numbers rapidly
dwindled. Now Tsijugoga is the last of her kind.
You see, she is no monster. The anxiety, dread,
the sense of impending doom and panic that I
had felt were her own feelings at witnessing the
doom of her kind. Had my mind been more
receptive, perhaps calmer and more rational, I
might have understood in the beginning.

The last few Hagolians were trying to reconstitute
their species, by synthesising new genetic
material and implanting it into cells in a
'test-tube' of sorts. You see their own cells were
too damaged to clone directly, the radiation
having degraded the genetic material. However,
she is primarily an astrobiologist by training, and
with most of her people's scientists and facilities
destroyed she was unable to complete the task.
So, she launched several probes into space -
telepathic relays with which to broadcast her own
distress signal. The proximity of remnants of the
dead neutron star made standard subspace
transmissions practically impossible. In any case
the telepathic means is much faster. Each probe
can broadcast a message over many light years in
an instant. The one that found me was damaged,
and my mind lacking the anticipated receptivity
meant that the probe had to travel all the way to
meet me.

Tsi has cells of her species stored in liquid
nitrogen and she has already transmitted me the
entire genetic code of her species. My job is
simple: retrieve the cells, synthesis the genetic
material and clone her species back into being. If
I can't manage it, then I know commercial
facilities that can. Of course, I will need cultural
data banks to educate the offspring. The library
where I saw her in the vision belongs to the
University of Mirmas and that will be a good start.
She hasn't got long left, so I hope I get to meet
her before she dies. In any case, my instructions
are clear and I know where to find the precious
cells. So I am leaving this world for a while to
journey across space to Hagoli, to Mirmas, and
hopefully to Tsi and the cells. It will be
hazardous, with all that neutron star debris, but I
think we can manage.

Quite handy this telepathic communication they
have developed. It gave you a glimpse of my
world and of Tsi's story, just in case I don't
succeed ...