Copyright (c) 2013 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
The interminable hum began to lower in pitch coming into audible human range as the dark-matter fields that powered the massive deep-space engines shifted to standard nuclear energy sources. The G-Class Earth ship AM419 became visible as it slowed to just under the speed of light. A 1.5 kilometer diameter translucent sphere filled with oxygenated sea-water, provided primary living quarters for the 360 passengers and crew members and occupied the center of the intergalactic craft. It was 986M848188.8.131.52.00.00 Earth time when the ship’s Captain woke from hibernation-sleep. Guena, one of twelve health attendants, floated before him.
“How was your sleep Lens? Did you dream?” Lieutenant Commander Lensford Cook rubbed his eyes as he stared at the brilliant colors emulating from Guena’s sparkling caudal fin. His subordinate wiggled her body just enough for him to catch a glimpse of the seductive toes she kept hidden beneath the hair-like barbels covering her adipose.
“I’m fine, a little slower to recover than last time. Age must be creeping up on me.” He stared at her again. Guena’s clear blue eyes held just a hint of mischief. She was pleased with the effect she had on him. “I dreamed about Earth again. It must have been all the ancient history data placed in my brain during travel-sleep. I still find it fascinating that at one time our most erotic sexual nodes, our toes, were used for navigating on land and that as a species we were able to survive out of water.” Guena looked down to see if she were uncovered, then back at him and grinned.
“Yes, before we had caudal fins our ancestors kept their “toes” covered as we do, with what they called shoes. But as I understand it, the apparel was meant as protection, not as a form of modesty. Although I’m sure an occasional shoe slipped off, when lovers were together.”
“I should like to travel to Earth one day, to see the origins of our species. How very strange it would be.” Captain Cook mused. He was still unsteady and allowed Guena to take him by the hand and lead him outside his sleeping compartment into the garden. Sea flora of every color and description swayed in the gentle water currents as schools of fish played in oxygen bubbles emulating from hidden nodes at the outside edges of the enormous globe. Guena laughed. “There wouldn’t be much to see unless you were in a historical re-creation. I have studied ancient Earth history myself during travel-sleep on several voyages. The Earth is now charred-rock orbiting too near its star. The average temperature is 2500 degrees centigrade. All water has long been burned away; it has been that way for more than 400 million years. The only usefulness we get from the planet of our origin is as a clock, an ancient timepiece, each revolution marking a year.”
“Thank you for you insights Doctor, my mental capabilities are returning according to my own crude time measurement.” He glanced at the digital readout glowing just under the skin on the palm of his hand. “I’ve been awakened at least forty years too soon. Is there a problem?”
“I was stimulated by Life Support Monitoring and ordered to bring you to Navigation. Crayton in Engineering received new orders. We are to investigate a phenomenology in this sector of Galaxy CR275A. A planet with an elliptical orbit of almost a billion Earth years has approached its birth-star in the last ten-thousand millennium to theoretically support the origination of life. Science Command on Eva 6 wants us to explore and send data before we resume our voyage.”
“Strange, Eva 6 doesn’t usually concern itself with Natural Science matters.”
“The transmission came directly from The Intergalactic Organization of Species. Doctor Zendar made the request in person. Eva 6 Command does of course wish us to assist him in any way possible.”
“Keeper, contacting our humble ship! I should like to one day meet the Universe’s most honored collector of exotic genera.”
“Who wouldn’t? Right now we have to concern ourselves with making the famous doctor happy.” Guena ran her hands across the tips of several giant, yellow-spotted underwater plants. Green spores clung to her fingers. “The Bemoncha should be ready. Are you hungry?”
“Not right now, although I could use something to help me to wake-up.” Captain Cook picked a hollow spine from the inside of a large flower growing on the sparkling sea-bed. Pure carbon was compressed, faceted and spread like sand on the bottom of the sphere reflecting light back through the water. The result was a sea-scape rich in almost limitless life-forms. “Coral Nectar does wonders for my vigor, but if I drink too much I get edgy.”
“Better let me have this one then.” Guena took the tube from Lens and then selected one from a flower that was lighter in color. “You need to watch what you drink. Look for the tiny red spots. If they are present choose another. You’ll ingest so much stimulant you’ll be churning the water like a whip snake.”
“It doesn’t bother you?”
“I have a metabolism that can burn it. I don’t know about you, but I could use a little exercise and perhaps a little adventure. Too much sleep is not good for humans.” She wigged her fins and allowed her toes to flash naked for an instant then giggled as she swam toward the command center located in the center of the garden. Captain Cook chased after her. His caudal fin propelled him through the liquid atmosphere with renewed vigor. As they passed through a thick area of swaying vegetation, Guena wiggled her fingers above a spiny plant allowing the spores to filter through the water onto the closed petals. The petals opened and a yellow produce popped out. “Mm mm, this Bemoncha is at perfect ripeness,” she said as she popped the fruit into her mouth.
“I’m not good at choosing food,” the captain confessed. “Mine always come out a little bitter or else too sugary.”
“It has everything to do with the pollen you use to entice the females. You receive according to what you give. A little care selecting insures the plant gets what it needs and you get what you want. Florae will take care of us, if we take care of them.” She broke off a piece of the banana like fruit and handed it to him. After eating they moved to the edge of the garden and stuck their hollow spines into a cluster of round pulsing globes. They relaxed and watched as the gardens filled with newly awakened crew-members conversing in a stream of refreshing bubbles as they sucked out the colorful liquid.
Lens followed Guena into the pressure chamber that condensed and filtered the sea-water canceling any current and making the atmosphere crystal clear. Crayton stood before a huge console made of three dimensional light images moving his tentacle-like fingers over clusters of auras and data.
Guena allowed Captain Cook to stand next to the bug-eyed Aquandian preferring to put distance between herself and the alien. She wasn’t comfortable floating next to his species. The hundreds of flagella he had instead of a tail bothered her, as they ran across the flesh of her adipose emitting tiny electrical questions.
“How soon before we enter the atmosphere?” Lens stared out the massive curved portal. The blue-green swirls of the wandering planet grew larger by the second.
“We should be able to maintain our current speed until just before splashdown.” The Aquandian gaped at Guena then turned his gaze on Lens as he made adjustments to the navigation display spread before him. “The vapor rich atmosphere of 446A117 will slow our descent as well as cool our superstructure to sustainable levels.”
“What exactly are we looking for?”
“Anything unusual, especially new or unknown life forms. Keeper wasn’t specific in his instructions. I think the old man is starting to lose it. He has to be over eight hundred years old. He was involved in many extensive voyages in his younger years. Rumors say he even traveled to Earth about a million years ago, while the planet was still inhabited and during the million or so years when humans lived on land. Why our ancestors ever left the sea is anyone’s guess. This was before Science Command restricted time travel, but I’m sure even now if Keeper wished to return he could get clearance to go back. If not, he is old friends with lots of politicians like Jefferson Milliard Cooper. They worked together for centuries. Jeff was Keeper’s assistant on many voyages and his old friend could pull lots of strings on Eva 6. This planet we are approaching has been forgotten and is off everyone’s radar. The elliptical orbit of 446A117 made it out of the way of all trade routes. There was just no reason for a visit until now.”
“Could you connect me with Keeper, so I can get more information? I need to know what we are looking for, if I’m to keep our superiors happy.”
“Dr. Zendar’s transmission was eighteen months old when we received it. He is off somewhere collecting on the far side of the galaxy. He rambled on about misplaced data, and he is sure he has visited this planet in the past. I think he’s hoping that your report will jog his memory. He did say something strange.”
“What was that?”
“He said be careful.”
“That’s an odd thing to say.”
“Like I said, the man is getting old. He may have one of the Universe’s greatest minds but even rocks crumble. If you really need to contact him, we’ll have to return to travel-sleep while we wait for a reply, then petition Eva 6 for time adjustments after we reach our destination.”
“I don’t think that will be necessary.” If we uncover any life-forms not in our computer archives we’ll tag and bag and bring them back. Now that I’m awake I don’t want to return to cold slumber.”
“The atmospheric data is coming in now. Looks like you won’t need to suit-up. The nutrient rich water is just what we’re used to - perhaps a little cleaner. Keep your eye out for Gwekonlian berries, they’re rare but if we could find a source on an unvisited planet like Crepos we could all go home rich.”
“Oh yeah, Keeper likes to use the old names he gave planets when he discovered them. I share his sentiments. It is a bit easier to say than 446A117.”
“You’re being quiet.” Crayton looked at Guena who had thrust her fingers into a light array and was swaying to vibrations from a popular musical performer.
“Your words don’t interest me,” Guena said. “Except for your mention of Gwekolian fruit. I was eighty-five and just out of school the last time I dipped my fingers in some. I swam around for weeks singing with my spines lifted and my toes uncovered, until I was arrested for indecent exposure on one of Calais fourteen’s moons.” She gave Captain Cook a hard shove. “I remember you were there and never said a word.”
“I couldn’t spoil everyone’s fun. The other students would have killed me.” Lens grinned.
“That’s why they were made illegal on almost all the inner planets and the thing that makes them so valuable.” Crayton made adjustments to his scanning display inputting emissions data to look for the illusive berries. “I know a trader who can meet us in route and take a ton off our hands if we get lucky.”
“Your luck has run out. I don’t need a tanked-up half-naked crew gallivanting through space navigating into a black hole because they’re high on Gweko-berries. We do a quick sweep of Keeper’s planet and its back to sleep for forty years for all of us.”
Thirty Earth minutes later, the AM419 plunged into the liquid surface of the planet 446A117 discovered more than a million years before and named Crepos by the illustrious explorer. An error in the navigation system sounded alarms throughout the crew compartments as the depth of the ocean was found to be less than detected by the ship’s sonar. The front sections of the intergalactic craft plunged into deep silt, but without damage on the ocean floor.
“Both my heart pumps are racing,” Crayton exclaimed. “It’s been more than two-hundred years since I docked a ship on anything other than pressed-carbon bedding.”
“Looks like even the main computer systems are confused.” Lens pointed to the wildly fluctuating light displays. “I believe it’s time we shook-up our perfect little world and discovered something more exciting than sour sea-fruit.”
Filters on the outside of the ship had already begun to clear the mud and silt from the water. The crew of the AM419 stared at a wonderland of sea-flora and strange fishes.
“I’m getting requests from every department for rest and relaxation time. Do you wish me to authorize planetary leave for all who desire Captain?”
“Why not? The more people we have moving around and exploring the quicker we can finish this interruption and return to our scheduled mission.”
After another quick computer analysis of the water composition and temperature levels all 360 passengers and crew members ventured into the refreshing clean seabed. Laughter and shouts of exhilaration filled the ocean around the ship with bubbles as eager new plants were examined, documented and covenanted with. The flora species seemed starved for any kind of attention and rewarded interested parties with exorbitant gifts. Colorful but strange acting fishes oddly kept their distance. Many of the crewmembers marveled at this peculiarity. Communications officer Brianna Kent obtained a root from a sea-carrot that caused the spines covering her toes to emit light from inside after she chewed the rubbery substance. Every male within swimming distance was attracted to her.
Captain Cook discovered Guena caressing the petals of a large flower that resembled a sea-orchid with her eyes closed. “Have you learned to speak their language?” he asked.
“I’ve learned much more than that,” Guena told him. “I helped to thin out this large root-bound clump and made sure seedlings found currents and were carried away. This was my reward.” She held out a glowing red fruit orb that had been nibbled. “This food grants strange psychic powers. I watched you appear minutes before you arrived. I heard you ask your question for the second time just now.” Lens took the glowing ball from her and turned it in a stream of bubbles.
“I have heard of certain hallucinogens giving the imbiber those kinds of abilities but I’ve never actually held one in my hands.”
“It’s been several minutes since that first bite and I’m still picking up things that are and things that will be.” Guena moved closer to her superior, allowing the spines covering her Adipose fin to brush against his lateral line.
“What have you discovered or think that you know?” Lens stammered.
“I now know that my desire for you is not mine alone. You feel the same way about our mating.” Guena moved closer.
“I admit that I find you very attractive,” Captain Cook reasoned. “But I have responsibilities to my ship and my crew.”
“You have the responsibility to make sure all your crew members are happy and fulfilled.” Guena moved closer. Lens could not take his eyes off her sparkling eyes. He paused for a moment then with a shrug took a bite of the fruit. Guena placed her lips over his and they began to melt together.
Loud shouting pulled them apart. They followed churning currents to a clearing next to the ship. Crayton had used a piece of vine to lasso a sea cow and ride it, a common feat on any number of watery worlds. The animal had whirled as he mounted and raked its teeth across the upper part of the Aquandian’s torso. Crew members stared in astonishment, surly this had to be a wild accident no animal species had harmed another for almost a half a million years. Blood clouded the area around the navigator red as the two hearts pulsed. Captain Cook took charge of the situation as the sea-cow swam away trailing the vine. “Find all medical personnel and have them bring lifesaving equipment and spill containment supplies at once. We won’t move this patient, unless we have to. He’s losing too much blood. “Guena helped him apply pressure to the wounds as they lowered the alien crew member to the sea floor. Crayton’s cluster of tentacles thrashed the water as he gaped at his wounds. “What have I done?” he stammered.
“I think we are both getting too old for adventures,” Lens joked, trying to negate his friend’s fears.
An underwater wave thundered across the ocean floor. Crew members tumbled helpless before its wake. Giant eyes peered from behind a mountain sized head as the monster approached. A mouth wide enough to swallow a spaceship opened revealing rows of razor sharp teeth. It followed the scent of the blood spreading in the water sucking crew members into its thrashing mouth as it fed. More dark shapes appeared on the horizon, the beginning of a feeding frenzy. Lens fought his way through the swirling carnage and found Guena. He pulled her into a Gwekonlian thicket everyone had overlooked. Her trembling form melted with his.
“Is this what death is like?” she asked. Captain Cook paused; the red fruit he had consumed began to fill his mind with insight.
“For many but not for us, not today,” he assured her.
The monster’s tail crashed into the side of the AM419 dislodging it from the sea-bed and listing it onto one side. A transmitted voice boomed over the underwater speakers.
“This is Doctor Keeper Zendar; please disregard your previous instructions. I have discovered my lost data. The planet Crepos is an evolutionary catastrophe that still hosts flesh eating beasts. The underwater flora though containing strange and powerful intoxicants is nothing to trifle with. The waters on this dark planet are home to the unstoppable Hellispool.”
There followed several minutes of underwater static punctuated by the screams of crew members then Keeper’s voice returned for the last word. “I wouldn’t go there if I was you.”