A thud reverberated through the hull as clamps gripped the small, recently refurbished, old starship. It was an ugly, bulky box of a craft, but a new coat of grey paint made it presentable as a government owned craft. The blue Union emblem, a circle within a circle of four quadrants with two long, narrow arrows shooting out from its sides, stood out on the stubby port side wing. The new logo covered over the old Imperial sigil, the purple of which could barely be seen under the new paint in places. On board that dated vessel, the purple space caterpillar named Leta, and a short, pastel blue swamp creature named Beto Amarel, waited for their ship’s umbilical to connect to a little mining station out in the interstellar sticks. They had stopped there in the middle of nowhere to hire on another much needed crew member, a young man by the name of Kathos DuPaillant.
It was quite the circumstance. They had stopped in a loose asteroid belt at the rim of a pulsar’s orbit, rather than wait until they arrived at a major junction. The idea to hire on extra hands came to Beto while they were already in transit, and once Beto got an idea into his head, he wanted to do it right now! That old mining station happened to be the nearest place with an adequate looking resume out, and that happened to be Mister DuPaillant’s resume.
“Alright, Leta,” Beto turned around to face her from his big, round pilot’s seat. It was so large for the little blue man that he looked like a child in it. Clicks and croaks filled the speech of his mother tongue, “Mister DuPaillant is a Scyllithan. I haven’t seen too many of them in all my years living in the Union, and I haven’t heard anything particularly good about them either. There might be a reason for this. So just, when he boards, and before I go in and interview him, tell me when you feel him board, and tell me your first impressions please.”
Leta was awkwardly leaning on the passenger seat in an alcove behind Beto. She crossed both of her pairs of arms, “You’re paranoid. I was going to tell you my first impressions anyways, because that’s common sense precaution.”
“Oh good.” Was all that Beto had to say before getting up to proceed toward the suiting room behind the airlock, which was where the interview would be taking place. Leta followed behind him. They didn’t enter the suiting room, but waited right outside. Beto kept looking anxiously through the porthole in the thick, round steel door, and checked his watch repeatedly.
Meanwhile, the long tailed, pine green lizard, Kathos DuPaillant, was in the perfect frame of mind for an interview, having just received a confidence boost the night before. He may have exaggerated his prospects to the raptoress, Kaeya, by telling her that he had already landed the job, meaning that she would never see him again after that night, but it had worked to finally reach the soft spots on that hard case. Two years of persistence well worth it, and finally, feeling like he did that day, there wasn’t a doubt in his mind that he would get the job. He dressed in his best clothing, the only clothes he had ever purchased brand new: navy dress pants, a pale blue, plaid buttoned shirt, and his for-show lab coat; the other lab coat had stains. Judging from the description he had read last morning, it sounded like a very sciencey position.
At the docks, there was only a single security guard clad in black and grey, and she didn’t even have a crossbow any more after new legislation. The little fuzzy faced Rauian officer never had a problem with Kathos in the two years she had known him, so she didn’t even bother to ID him as he was opening the port to leave.
“Got called out early Kats?” She asked, thinking that the lizard was just headed to one of the other two stations where he did regular maintenance. Kathos wasn’t exactly needed full-time at any one station.
“Got an interview for a better job. If you see me coming back here with my stuff under my arms, then you’ll now I got the job.” Kathos smiled.
“Ah, well, I can’t blame you, but we’ll miss you. If you get the job that is. Good luck any ways.”
“Thanks, Clarette.” Kathos replied, and proceeded to the docked ship. Its umbilical was not gravitized, and he had to push himself through the zero-G tube. It came as a surprise to see two metal stools and a small, square folding table set up in the room behind the ship’s tiny airlock. He had expected to go further into the ship to some sort of office, and sit on the other side of a nice desk across from someone in a suit and tie. But it looked like the interview would be happening right there.
Beto’s high pitched, croaky voice sounded through the intercom, “Please take a seat Mister DuPaillant. I’ll be with you in a moment.”
Kathos took a seat, and tried to guess what produced that guttural accent. Beto and Leta were, of course, just beyond the door, standing in the hallway.
“Well?” Beto asked her anxiously.
“He feels confident for sure. I dunno, he doesn’t feel unpleasant.” Leta answered.
“Do you think he’ll be difficult for me at all? You know I’m antisocial for a reason.” He very much disliked conflict, of any sort, at all.
“I really couldn’t tell you, Beto. I can’t give you a perfect in-depth psychoanalysis of someone right upon just starting to feel them, and through a wall no less.” She said, a bit irritated. Sometimes, a lot of the time, he overestimated her abilities.
“Okay. Sooo should I go do-”
“Yes! Go!” Leta shouted, and pointed to the door with one hand, and turned and pushed him toward it with two others.
At that, Beto hopped to it, literally. He was a bit of the skittish sort, and he jumped when she yelled at him, especially with her psionics conveying her mild frustration, which made her seem louder than she really was. He rushed through the door, and closed it quickly behind him.
Beto sat at the little, white plastic topped table, and got to take a good look at a Scyllithan face for the first time. The lizard’s head was somewhat similar to that of a monitor lizard, but his snout didn’t taper to an end. Instead it was flat and square at the end. Kathos had a wide jaw, with thick jaw muscles at the back. Maybe not as powerful as a crocodile, but this lizard would still clearly have a powerful chomp. There were fangs too, but they were hidden behind two thick diamond shaped scales called ‘profangs’, prevalent on male Scyllithans. The tail was long and thick, perhaps a foot longer than his legs, and as limp as a wet towel. Just one pair of arms, one pair of legs, and all of them in the usual places. He had bright blue eyes, a shade bluer than the sky, but a shade lighter than Beto’s pastel skin. The eyes did have whites, but the coloured irises mostly filled them. His pupils were vertical and convex. His jaw, jowls, the front of his neck, and presumably the rest of his underside under his clothes, were a significantly lighter shade of dull green than his pine green top and back. The front and back colours were joined together by a raised seam-like groove between them, as if the two halves of his hide were stitched together.
Vice versa, this was Kathos’ first time seeing a member of Beto’s species, Perok. They were the newest species to join this conglomeration of aliens called the Union of Systems, and had quite a ways to go yet to become modernized. Planet Perok was still very much a construction zone, coming out of the age of coal and steam engines, and into the age of fusion power and high-speed media. So there weren’t exactly a lot of Perok around; quite exotic by contrast to the normal aliens. That is to say, most aliens in the Union had two arms, two legs, a face, and all in the places where you would expect them to be. Beto, on the other hand, was not quite so standard.
The little blue man couldn’t have been any more than five feet tall, which would make Kathos at least half a foot taller than him. Although Beto did have one pair each of arms and legs, they were all attached at the shoulders to his giant tadpole tail of a body. The legs were a very meaty pair of giant frog’s legs, with three long, webbed toes at the bottom for swimming, as Perok were amphibious. The arms were much smaller and thinner than the legs, but again ended with three long, webbed digits. His hands looked small compared to his feet, and weren’t nearly as webbed, so as to have better dexterity for working with fine tools. Nearly half of his tail-body dragged on the ground, with a light grey piece of clothing that was like a one legged sweatpant over the part that dragged. He was modestly speckled with darker blue spots on what skin Kathos could see exposed, not hidden behind the loose, thin, turquoise shirt that he wore beneath an unbuttoned lab coat. Beto’s face had a set of short and thick, rounded pincers that covered a mouth of two flat, jointed mandibles, similar to a crab’s mouth. Two large, elongated, black eyes were above the mouth, and came out slightly past the top of his scalp. His eyes were held on thick, but short, white, fleshy stalks, again similar to a crab’s eyes, but much larger. His skull was not a full skull, but a kite shield cranial plate under a thin layer of skin several shades paler than the rest of his very blue skin. His brain hung underneath the cranial plate, encased in a big, squishy bulge attached behind his neck and earholes. There was no nose or nostrils, because Perok breathe through their skin, which is why they must sweat perpetually to keep their skin wet. Kathos didn’t know these things yet however, and was instead just confused as to how Beto breathed, and why he smelled like a frog. In fact, Kathos hadn’t even realized that Beto Amarel was going to be a Perok, but it didn’t catch him too off guard, as he had seen many other aliens before, just not that one.
Kathos extended his hand, and asked with a winning smile, “Beto Amarel?”
“Yes.” Beto replied concisely and gave Kathos his handshake. He noticed that Kathos’ hands had rather fat digits, with two fingers, and two thumbs; one thumb on each side of the hands. Beto thought the lizard had a friendly smile, certainly less daggered and predatory seeming than the smiles of the raptor-esque Brinrikians that he usually dealt with when he had to deal with people. Good enough! Beto wouldn’t want an assistant that made him feel like prey.
“We’ll get right to it then, if you’re ready, Mister DuPaillant.” Beto said, putting his hands on the table as he sat down.
“Ready.” Kathos answered, but couldn’t help think, what an oddly quick introduction that was. There was no, ‘how are you? I’m fine, and you?’ Just right into it.
“So,” Beto croaked, and progressed the interview, “what exactly is your experience putting together, *click* and making reports?”
“What kinds of reports?” Kathos asked.
Beto croaked and clicked a bit, looking for the Brinrikian words before giving examples, “Lab reports, productivity reports, expense reports, *clickclick* you know, *croak* reports.”
“Right, right. A letter, a summary of information, just as a skill in general. Reports, yes… well, I have a little more experience than what’s on my resume. Besides what I had to do for my education, I also often helped my flatmate in engineering do his writing assignments. He had that problem where he had pi memorized to twenty digits, but then still got ‘there,’ ‘their,’ and ‘they’re,’ confused.” Kathos answered, trying his best to speak and pronounce clearly and properly, so that he wouldn’t sound like a Scyllithan bumpkin. He spoke with quite an Arachonese type of accent instead, pronouncing many consonant ‘E’s or ‘I’s as vowels; the accent that his Brinrikian instructor had.
Beto found it strange how much that lizard sounded like so many of the raptors. “And how about having to present to a sponsor, panel, or audience?” Was Beto’s next question, and something he personally hated having to do, recoiling even at the mere thought of it.
“I can give a confident presentation or case. I’m not a stand up comedian or anything, but I was definitely one of the better chemistry students for being able to hold an audience.” Not that the competition was particularly stiff.
Beto liked everything he was hearing. He meshed his fingers, with his elbows on the table, and tapped his pincers together before continuing, “Well that sounds *click* essentially what I’m looking for. But, now, how similar would you say, *click* your current work and educational experience are to the position I’m offering you?”
“My education is definitely more on target, being quite a broad curriculum of basic chemistry, language, and logistics. When I graduated though, the economy needed more specialized skill sets than broad ones, so I was given a two week crash course on maintaining and operating the old distillation equipment out here, and that’s primarily what I’ve been doing for the past two years. At one installation they also sometimes have me drive the old forklift there.”
“You can drive a manual forklift?” Beto was surprised, since most forklifts were now robots.
“Yes. I used a really old one with a burnt out auto-driver for unloading trucks when I was a kid on Scyllith. Why, do you have one on this little craft?” Kathos asked.
“Yes actually, just a little one that’s probably as old as this craft itself, *clickclick* and probably came with it. Usually there’s a robot one to move supplies wherever we pick them up from, but sometimes places are quite *click* busy, and we have to wait for hours to be unloaded and reloaded. Having a trained forklift driver could actually come in handy. I would do it, but I *croak* don’t fit in the seat.” It wasn’t designed for a swamp monster.
“Yeah, I can see how that might be a problem for you.” Kathos said, and chuckled.
“Indeed, and believe me, that isn’t the only thing I’ve had difficulty fitting into since leaving home. So then, I want to hear your understanding of the synopsis I sent you, *croak* because it is an odd job. One of a kind, really, and I had to write the synopsis myself, *click* since I haven’t hired you to do that for me yet.” Beto attempted some humour at the end.
Kathos took a long breath in preparation for his explanation. He had, rather irresponsibly, only skimmed over the synopsis, “It sounded to me like the work lay somewhere between lab technician, shipper and receiver, and personal assistant.”
“Well, yes, but I meant, what was your understanding of the substance of the work? The science; the bits and bolts?” Beto specified.
“It’s my understanding that you’re trying to engineer a safe and precise method of mutation, among other things. Almost trans-suraan type stuff, with the search for cures to diseases and some psionics sprinkled in. You have an alien that can naturally mutate to a degree to better suit its environment, and that’s the base of it all, if I read right.” And as Kathos said that he shifted, his eyes to the door behind Beto, but his focus returned to Beto as soon as the blue alien spoke again.
“Yes, that is the gist of the mission. I was educated outside of the Union, on Perok, so I’m not sure what you learnt in your chemistries, but you’re probably going to need to learn a lot more that’s specific to this, *clickclick* which will mean quite a bit of heavy reading at first. Are you able to commit to that?” Beto asked.
“Absolutely, and not a problem at all.” Kathos answered with the commitment that Beto was looking for. Whatever reading he would have to do, it couldn’t be more dull than his current work, or the average shut-in who actually chose to live out in deep space. Kathos was only there because it was the job he could get at the time that also paid a somewhat respectable wage.
“Well then, I have no objections to hiring you. Do you have any questions for me?” Beto asked.
“Thank you, sir.” Kathos said before continuing with anything else.
Sir, Beto was used to saying it, but not to receiving that title. It felt gratifying, like he was finally moving up in the galaxy.
The lizard asked his question, “I just want to see if I have the right idea about what this is going to be. Essentially, I will be taking care of things outside the lab, and helping with lab procedures, to give you more time to focus on the real research, yes?”
“Essentially. You will be alleviating me from distractions.” Beto put it even more concisely.
“That’s very much the symbiotic relation I had with my flatmate, and I’m sure I could with you too.” Kathos felt clever using a biology word like ‘symbiotic’ in this context.
“I certainly hope so. You definitely have an *clickclick* interesting set of skills, which happens to work out to my great fortune.” The way Beto spoke, it was hard to pick up any inflection or emotion, but Kathos still felt confident about his new employer’s take on him.
Of course, the reason Kathos had that ‘interesting’ skillset was because he was a lazy, underachieving lizard. Rather than become specialized for a career, he took a bunch of easy or fun courses during his free years at university. That was why he knew a bit of this and a bit of that. Not mentioned in the interview or on his resume, were the courses he had failed and the Imperial History which was completely irrelevant to any of his other skills.
“Very lucky for both of us, sir.” Kathos said.
“Alright, well, pack your bags and we’ll be heading out again immediately. We’re supposed to be on our way to Kerek right now, actually. Speaking of which, *croak* the job we’ll be doing there is also, *click* kind of a detour from what we usually do, but I’ll explain more on the way.” Beto told him, then stood up.
So Kathos stood up as well. Beto took him out into the hallway, just enough to show him where the elevator was. He gave a rough description of the ship’s layout, and where Kathos’ quarters would be, “First door on left hand side as you exit the elevator into the main lobby.” Beto walked Kathos back to the airlock where they shook hands once more before parting, so that Kathos could go grab his belongings. Beto, as one would probably expect, had very clammy hands.
Kathos didn’t have very many things. Clothes, a toothbrush, common wares, a large datapad, a small touchpad, and a big heat lamp. So he had his things gathered and on the ship within the hour, although he rushed to do so. Perhaps he shouldn’t have rushed, there being a girl who liked him on that station after all, but he didn’t want to accidentally cross her path and have to say goodbye again. Kathos was weak willed. Kaeya may have been able to convince him to stay if she really wanted to, and he most certainly did not want to find out if she would want him to or not. He finally got the chance to escape the backwater solitude of deep space, and he needed to take it. Scyllithans were land bound creatures, not meant to fly or swim, let alone live on a dim rock orbiting a pulsar. It was suffocating to him.
Beto came over the intercom again as soon as Kathos was back aboard, “Kathos, please report to navigations as soon as you’ve delivered your things to your room.”
The last time Kathos was on the ship, he had only seen the little airlock, and the shiny, refurbished suiting room behind it. When he carried his things through the round hatch door, he came to a much more retro looking hallway. The hall was rounded with concave walls. A steel walkway and ceiling were covered in a pattern of little holes through which the pipes and wires could be seen. The walls were padded with blocks of pleather covered cushions, mostly a faded and discoloured yellow from what had once been beige, but there were also the occasional newer white replacements. Handles ran along the middle of the walls in case the gravity panelling failed, in which case the hallways would become more like shafts.
An elevator ran between the three floors of the ship. Kathos took it up to the top level where the living spaces and ship operations were located. The doors opened to a large, round room with a little glass dome in the middle of the ceiling. That room was clearly newer, or rather, well renovated like the suiting room. The central part of that room was two shallow steps lower than the outer section, and was separated by three faux wood panelled counters. The outer section had a large kitchen area around half of it, and plenty of storage space around the other areas. There were doors that led to the washrooms, bedrooms, and helm. In the centre, past the counters, and down the two shallow steps, was a large, round table (approximately five meters in diameter) with a big, black orb in the middle of it. The black orb Kathos knew was a holoprojector. The table itself now was quite the piece too, with wood trim and a granite top inlaid with a grey-purple type of rock that formed the Imperial sigil. Apparently replacing that table top with one that had the Union emblem would have been too difficult or expensive, so that vestige of the Empire was left as is. A diamond head on a downward arrowhead body with three prongs on each side forming wings; that was the Imperial sigil. Around the central table were three booth seats with more faux wood panelling on their backs and sides, and navy blue pleather padding for seats.
After taking in the Imperial nostalgia for a few moments, Kathos went to his room. It was a small space that only held a queen sized bed, a triangular desk in one corner, and a clothes dresser in the other corner. It was comfortably carpeted, and had one small porthole window. He didn’t unpack and settle himself into the room just yet; he dropped his things and headed to the nose of the ship where he had been instructed to go.
There were only three seats in the helm. The pilot and copilot seats were big, round, cream coloured, and didn’t look original to the ship. They were surrounded by gauges and touch screens on the dashboard, with the manual control toggle between them. The third seat was built into the wall to the left of the doorway when entering, behind the other seats. Leta was awkwardly half sitting, and half leaning on that third seat, as her caterpillar-centipede body type didn’t exactly fit onto it. Directly across from the passenger seat was a closet which held an emergency space suit.
The interior decorating wasn’t what grabbed Kathos’ attention however, it was the purple caterpede that looked to be nearly twice his size. Her head was quite a long and large exoskeletal skull plate of a glossy lavender colour. Toward the back of the skull plate it widened and partially divided into three rounded ridges. Two large spherical plates, which looked round from the front, but egg shaped from the side, sat on either side of the front of her head and held her eyes. Each of those optical orbs had three small, dark green, compound eyes on them. Two looked forward like normal eyes, with the other four looking partially to the sides and also up or down. They gave her a wider range of vision than most. Her mouth was at the bottom of her face and had four small, fleshy, finger-like mandibles. They were blue-periwinkle in colour, two on each side of her mouth, and covered a round and nearly flat beak that was quartered instead of bifurcated. Above the mouth were two long slits for nostrils. She had six pairs of stick-like exoskeletal limbs the same lavender colour as her head. The limbs were divided into three sets, with an extra gap between every two pairs that were closer together. The front two pairs, or first set, each had two long segmented fingers and a thumb at their ends. The next three pairs all had feet which resembled fingerless mittens at their ends. Those hands and feet were all a darker purple than the lavender, more accurately a purple-periwinkle. The final pair had no feet or hands at their ends, but instead came to points, making them large pincers. Her back was covered in big, overlapping, tear drop shaped plates that were the same purple-periwinkle as her digits. Coming out from under the back plates, fanning out slightly from and over her sides, were black bristles or whiskers. Her sides and belly were not covered in carapace, but were soft and exposed like a normal caterpillar. Those fleshy parts were duller than the glossier exoskeleton, and just a tad more pale than her head or limbs. With a combination of ‘caterpillar’ and ‘centipede’ (caterpede) best describing her overall appearance, and knowing that she’s about twice the size of the fairly average proportioned Kathos, one could get an idea of how long she was. An exact measurement of her length would be difficult to give however, as she’s quite stretchy.
Kathos had thought that Doctor Amarel was exotic, but the caterpede was on a whole other level as things went from weird to weirder. So long as it wasn’t a trick and they didn’t eat him, this could be the most interesting job he would ever take. Kathos knew it was rude to stare, but couldn’t take his eyes off that thing yet. He prolonged eye contact by engaging in conversation, ignoring his employer for a moment. Beto was kneeling on the pilot’s seat, with his pincers resting on the back of it to look over at Kathos.
“Are you the alien mentioned in the synopsis, the one that this whole mission is about?” Kathos asked.
“I sure am.” She answered pleasantly. Her voice was smooth, and definitely feminine, but a deeper feminine that fit her large size. She really wouldn’t have sounded right if she had a little girl’s voice. Kathos had never heard such clarity in speech from an insect before. He expected her to sound more clicky like Beto, “I’m called Leta, by the way.”
“Pleased to meet you, Leta. You probably already know that I’m Kathos DuPaillant.” The lizard replied.
“Oh yes, we both looked over your resume. Take a seat Mister DuPaillant. Beto is eager to move the day forward.” She said, putting him back on track.
“Ah yes, of course.” Kathos said and went to take the copilot seat. It rotated in place, and Kathos climbed into the big seat. It was like a cushioned bowl. Perhaps the idea behind those seats was supposed to be, ‘one size fits any alien,’ but they didn’t exactly fit any of these aliens especially well. Kathos then asked Doctor Amarel, “So what’s on the agenda?”
“Well first,” Beto began, “are you familiar with controls for small craft like this?”
Kathos answered cautiously, “I’ve never been at a helm, so I’m going to say no, but they are quite straightforward to my understanding.”
“They are.” Beto confirmed, “This computer has every safety, and will tell you what to do if you ask it. For basic travel *clickclick* you just punch in the destination here,” Beto tapped the screen, and typed in ‘Kerek’, then after some more clicking, he continued, “Then once it finds the best route, you select it, and it asks if you’d like it to *click* automatically move to a safe FTL jumping distance, which I do, and hopefully we never have to learn how to fly manually.”
The ship immediately started to turn and move away from the station, as they saw through the thick windows that surrounded them in a half hexagon over the dashboard.
“And then all these screens, dials, and gauges are named, so they’re pretty straight forward too.” Kathos noted.
“Yes, and if you have difficulty finding one, then you can ask the computer, and it will flash a light to direct you.” Beto added.
“And what is the computer command?” Kathos asked.
“Oh right, it’s ‘ship Aemio’.” And right after Beto said it, their was a low ping to signal that the computer was waiting for a command, which Beto then disabled with, “Stop listening.” And it made a lower ping in acknowledgement.
“Excellent, excellent. So then, about what we’ll be doing at Kerek?” Kathos enquired.
“Zoology.” Beto answered concisely, then elaborated further, “We’re to capture and bring back two kanaeda succon to a zoo on Rike.”
“That seems like an odd job for us to be doing. Is there any more to it than that?” Kathos knew that surely there were more qualified and local people for zoo stocking.
“Well, there is a certain way we have to try and do it, and we’ll be doing some experiments on one of them, but really *croak*, there are much easier ways we could do that. I think we’re just being used out of convenience, since we were going to Rike anyways, and Kerek isn’t that much of a detour for us.” Beto answered, perhaps a little annoyed at the job, and without really explaining it very well.
Leta explained better for Kathos, “Kanaeda succon are actually indigenous to Scantari, but of course, nothing on Scantari survived the antimatter bombardment centuries back. Why that’s relevant is because I happen to share DNA originating from Scantari, and enquiring minds want to know if that small similarity will make it easier for me to use my psionics on them, or not. Then we’re also going to mutate some of my bone marrow, and put it into one of them, and see what happens.”
“Well alright then.” Kathos thought that sounded pretty far out, but whatever the enquiring minds who financed them wanted to know, they could have. He did have some more questions however, “So what exactly do you mean by psionics? Isn’t that like telepathy?”
“It covers more than that, but I can do some telepathy if we’re close enough, and if I’ve gotten familiar enough with your brain, but it’s really not the easiest thing for me to do. It takes a while to get to that point, and some minds are definitely easier to synchronize with than others.” Leta explained.
“So how’s my brain?” Kathos had to ask.
“I haven’t really spent enough time around you, or any Scyllithans for that matter, to know.” Leta answered.
“And how about Beto?” Had to be Kathos’ next question.
“Oh, this Perok is in my pocket.” Leta replied and giggled, “Higigigig.” That was how she sounded when she giggled.
Kathos just smiled, then turned to Beto as the little blue man stood up.
“Alright, I think we’re done here.” Beto said, “And you have reading in your mailbox to do.” He dismissed Kathos, then had some words for Leta about belittling him in front of the new hire after Kathos had left.
© 2019 Arthur Bauin