Illustration: “Exodus” © 2005 by Carl Goodman
Ablad Cuvapor relaxed his outer docking tubes and allowed the Melkan female to deposit her spherical ovabiche in pleasant parallel tones inside his plastique receptors. So long as his explosion was contained, he felt no need to warn the Melkan servants preparing his afternoon meal in a nearby shaft. He sipped methane capsules and stroked her folded appendages as she sexed him, covering her delicate tendrils lovingly with an erotic designer shield for protection. So easy to deceive these Melkan, he thought, since telepathy was forbidden here. Of all the visiting dignitaries, his status as Ambassador from Xaros was least suspected of skullduggery by the indigenous, simply because of the way he looked. To the Melkan, Ablad resembled a clownish species on one of their moons, one notably low on the sentient index. He was equated with fools. Reality was far different.
But during secondary orgasm, a dismal anomaly penetrated his thoughts in the form of an urgent message from one of the Xaros peripheral colonies, Emeppe. The voice was that of an old friend, Pagli Oraset, and the communication disturbing. Having already duped the Melkan into believing they would receive favored trade status in return for sharing myrd, a much desired purple, phosphorescent dye that sold well throughout the Confederation of planets, it irked him to be forced to reveal what he was hearing.
“Something wrong, Ablad?” asked Kerennial, his assigned stimulant. “Am I not performing up to your expectations?”
“Not you, bushla. Keep depositing. It’s just a time-sensitive elimination ache. Perhaps if you could switch tubes to accommodate a different propulsion filament. That’s better. I do believe you are making me pregnant.”
Pagli’s information became worrisome at once as his disciplined mind dismissed the female’s ministrations.
“The Cave of Winds unsealed an hour ago. The Gurnia are heading in your direction, Ablad. I suggest immediate evacuation.”
“If I do that, Pagli, I will lose position at the trade conference and my advantage. Is there no way to stop the Gurnia or deflect them?” he thought in return.
“No way that I know beyond the shield mechanism they just destroyed without outside help. They will pass through Melkan and absorb all its resources like they have done before.”
“What about the Melkan themselves?”
“It will consider them resources as well. You are in danger, my friend.”
Ablad decided to do the honorable thing, that is, after his Melkan bushla completed her promiscuous, pre-ingestive pleasure popping and he was safely aboard his interplanetary orb hopper.
“Ambassador Wuyd, this is Ablad Cuvapor. I have just received a message indicating a potentially tragic event. It affects your planet negatively. The criminal Gurnia, kept locked and incarcerated for more than 75 solar shadows, have escaped their confinement and are heading in our, that is, your direction. I’m certain they will impact Melkan very soon, in less than two solar revolutions.”
“Ambassador Cuvapor,” replied Wuyd. “We have detected no transmissions to this planet through our atmosphere. How is it you received this message? My technicians assure me no such communication occurred.”
Ablad understood immediately that he had been mistrusted after all, and despicably monitored in spite of the Melkan insistence that his residence was jipordian (detector) free.
“I must tell you that we of Xaros are a telepathic species. Forgive the deception. I hope this warning exonerates me somewhat. You must evacuate right away.”
Ambassador Wuyd slammed down the communicator and shut off the visual display panel. Personally, he never wished to see the idiotic-looking alien again.
“Get me in touch with Ambassador Iron Feather,” he demanded of a lower echelon assistant. “In the meantime, start transferring our people to Pakla immediately. Tell them it’s to celebrate an upcoming orgasmathon festival so they’ll move quicker. We have little time.”
* * *
On Manic, Langford Joh was just ruminating about his son, lamenting the lack of seeing him personally since his marriage to Malorchia, when Iron Feather’s features appeared on a plasma display.
“Father. I have an urgent request, unless you already know about it.”
“Very glad to see your face and hear your voice. No, nothing happening as far as I’ve seen. Did something important escape the Prail spying technology?”
“Apparently so. Do you know about the Gurnia?”
“Yes. Some sort of offensive creature imprisoned in the Xaros system. I don’t believe my personal records show anything special about them.”
“Neither do mine. But I have just learned that they have escaped and are heading to Melkan. According to my source, the Ambassador there, they have a reputation for ferocity second to none in the quadrant. I have no idea yet why such a potential force has not been studied and documented.”
“Are you occupied?”
“The Purdo crisis. I cannot leave at this moment.”
“Has anything been done?”
“Melkan is evacuating, but it will not be in time.”
“I’ll handle it, son, but I require a visit from you, your wife, and my grandson when this is over.”
“Agreed. He is . . . I mean to say . . . you have to understand that my son is . . . Jarbetz is quite challenging.”
“Looking forward to it. I will contact you when it is resolved.”
Langford manipulated his console from the Prail throne as his son’s features faded, pushing levers and buttons until he was satisfied, then stared into a silver lens.
Immediately on Xaros, the planetary head of galactic affairs, one Parlis Verafod, was startled by the sudden appearance of an alien face projected through the steel bricks of his private elimination module. No one had ever disturbed him there before. Langford also sent a paralytic beam, so that the only part of the man’s body capable of functioning inside the enclosure was his speech resonator.
“Parlis. Stop playing with your tubes and tell me about the Gurnia.”
“Who? What what do you wish to know?”
“Why were they imprisoned?”
“They tried to eat through one of our colonized societies.”
“How was that accomplished?”
“Typically, they burrow into an unpopulated area and emerge in a city where they stop and absorb all the life forms.”
“Are these cities in a direct line from their entrance point?”
“Now that you mention it, yes. We never thought about that before, only the destruction and loss of life they caused.”
“How were they contained?”
“The usual; a 12th power, quadruple-folded energy grid.”
“Which they have today broken, yes?”
“Apparently so. I haven’t been out there.”
“What else do you know about them?”
“Virtually nothing. They came to us from a rim sector, Cuerille as I recall.”
“Any planets between Cuerille and Xaros, assuming their trajectory was a straight line?”
“Several, but only in our system. That is why we captured and jailed them.”
“What sustenance sustained them in captivity?”
“They eat anything; nails, junk, waste matter.”
“How did you determine their name?”
“We just made it up.”
“Get me more specific data, Parlis. And quickly. I will be coming back.”
“Who are you?”
“That does not matter. The Gurnia are all-important now.”
With that, Langford switched off and scanned Cuerille, an edge planet near the rim barrier on the 1st-quadrant side of the galaxy. He was not encouraged by what he saw: a dead, blackened sphere, pockmarked with great holes. The Prail throne mechanisms permitted him to look further, to the very barrier itself, where he spotted an ancient, telltale break. Anything penetrating the rim barrier left its mark. This one was oval and black.
So. They are extra-galactic, he reasoned. Anything is possible.
It was time to see what they looked like and analyze the threat. One thing that Prail technology could do almost instantaneously was deposit his active hologram anywhere in the galaxy, so long as he provided coordinates. The trajectory must be in the same line, with Cuerille, Xaros, or their systemic colonies and Melkan. Rapidly figuring the location, he punched it in and the throne took him among the hostile entities.
Something wrong here. These do not appear to be a belligerent species intent on causing harm. If they were, they would stop at the accessible spheres along the way, but they have overlooked many. Why do they inflict such horror in other places? The Gurnia, who had clearly devastated Cuerrille with obvious traces, had no interest in other life-sustaining orbs along their path, only those that intersected it.
They are on a mission. What do they seek?
There were 80 entities hurtling at great speed through the vacuum. Each resembled the other with minute differences. To Langford, their shape reminded him of a calzone he once ate on Earth, a deep-fried mass of dough shaped like a fat crescent roll, filled with assorted cheeses and ham, then baked for a few moments. Unlike calzones, these creatures bore binding elements on two sides of their bodies, thick ridges that seemed to clamp their ungainly middle bulge to itself.
Telepathy failed to reach their logic centers, if indeed they had any. Prail technology was incapable of translating their thoughts to him.
But he detected a grim, almost death-wish purpose. The Gurnia sought the Pmadex Delvat, according to throne sensors, an indefinable something. Langford decided he had to find out what it or they were before Melkan was reached. The first priority, however, was Melkan, then any other life-class worlds on the un-diverted path the Gurnia had resumed since penetrating the rim.
His digital mini-knobs, once human fingers, gracefully caressed the buttons on the throne’s Manic controller to set up a very large plasma screen for spatial analysis. He quickly confirmed that there were no other planets intersecting the trajectory, just a few dead spheres of little interest. Next, he recalled the necessary figures of Melkan physiques, population, and atmosphere. Immediately, Langford saw a solution for that part of the dilemma, evacuating Melkan, a global society with very few inter-galactic craft. What they
needed was help, some convenient transportation.
* * *
Byl Troif, an erudite foliant and former friend of Langford Joh before his untimely and unexplained disappearance or death, was relaxing in the sun of his private library on Tramang. The leafy entity was finishing the last blossoms of a new collection by his favorite
home-grown poet, Vyn Schmet, who specialized in aromatic Kwaida, Tramang-specific odes that catered to foliants in need of chlorophyl refresh.
There was something very strange about the buds in this ode. They assumed a familiar oval face and blew a hypnotic suggestion at his pores. They spored into his neural vine, singing:
Tramang possesses many rapid cress (foliant craft)
You, the Troif, control all by mere whim
Admired they are from the spokes to the rim
Take them to aid the poor Melkan distress
And praise will not cease till your leafage is dim
The poem was repeated several times, refusing in its persistence to halt until Byl Troif, the Tramang Ambassador to the Confederation of Planets and Director of the League of Sentients repeated the words verbally.
Suddenly, Troif recognized an unmistakable feature in the gathered buds, the smile of his old, lamented friend. He knew what he was seeing and hearing had to be impossible, yet Langford was the one entity in the universe capable of surprising him, which was why he loved his memories of the human.
“Is it you, Langford? You can stop trying to hypnotize me now.”
“What if it is true, Byl?”
“How important is this mission?”
“The lives of 3 million sentient tendrilites depend on your speed and efficiency.”
“I would need 1,000 ships.”
“1,027, to be precise. And carriers, not luxury craft.”
“Absolutely, my friend.”
“Will I see you again?”
“Perhaps someday. We’ll see.”
“Please, Langford. If I am to do this, I want your word.”
“My word is given.”
“Then I will do it.”
“Hurry, Byl. A great disaster approaches them quickly.”
Troif waited for Langford’s rare smile to disappear before leaping to his communication console. Rapidly, he authorized a massive gathering of all available transport carriers throughout the Tramang system and set their course toward Melkan for a huge rescue mission.
Langford leaned against the throne with a sigh, remembering how cooperative his friend had been in many prior adventures. He made a mental note to reward Byl with something special after the emergency disappeared. A collection of the golden psalms from distant Nadir seemed a fitting and appropriate gift for such a worthy soul.
“Nadirian, are you available?” he thought.
“Always. I have traced the origin of the Gurnia to a system in the Resumir galaxy, the first time I have encountered it. There is an energy circlet about their planet preventing me from close observation. I can tell you that these entities do not think in symbolic terms.”
“I have not seen any aggressive behavior. They could have turned aside to decimate other planets, but have not veered from their course.”
“I concur. Their trajectory from Resumir is identical. Straight.”
“They were confined for a time by a 12th power field.”
“Which they broke. The circlet was of a higher power. Clearly, they proceed for a great purpose.”
“I am going to project myself before them as a like creature, hopefully to make them pause. I would like you to study their reaction, if there is one.”
“Better yet, I will instill myself inside one of the creatures, if that is possible.”
“I am reforming myself now. Are you ready?”
The confrontation was odd. The Gurnia, on seeing Langford’s reproduction of themselves, did indeed stop and gather around the holographic form for nearly a lag, surrounding him in a neat, precise formation. Nadirian found it impossible to penetrate their bodies. Though he detected a centralized, neural brain-like mass, the entities possessed internal shields that made further penetration impossible.
He did manage to detect pulses of incoherent infra-green radiance directed at Langford. The aliens persisted until every inch of Langford’s image had been tested for whatever it was they sought. Then, all at once, they resumed their former phalanx and disregarded him altogether. Resolutely, they continued toward Melkan.
“They acted in concert, Langford. That was an effort by an intelligent species.”
“I agree. If we cannot decipher their thoughts, can we conclude anything else?”
“Not without more facts.”
“If we permit them to reach Melkan, they will cut through the planet, possibly destroy the ecosystem, and perhaps ruin a civilization. What do you suggest?”
“Summon a traveling nebula of greater energy.”
“I know of none in this quadrant.”
“The Prail might be able to… no, I’m wrong. They are unwilling. They say none are available in the time needed.”
“Do they know the species?”
“Will they tell us what we need to know?”
“They are saying our interpretation of the Gurnia is out of proportion with reality. In other words, we should be able to fix the crisis ourselves.”
“But we know so little about them, other than their determination.”
“True enough. The instinctive behavior of nearly every entity in the galaxy is limited to just a few familiar patterns.”
“Self-preservation, reproduction, ego-dynamism, and discovering self-purpose.”
“Those are the patterns seen in our galaxy.”
“What else could be added to the list?”
“Unknown. I wonder what they would do if faced with a temporal anomaly.”
“There is a dimensional rift that appears in the Melkan system occasionally, but Prail technology cannot predict its occurrence.”
“Then the only answer is the same one used by Xaros; captivity, which I know the Prail detest.”
As Langford and Nadirian parried suggestions, an unexpected event mystified them. The Gurnia, who had bypassed thousands of chunks of debris in their sojourn, were extraordinarily impressed by a strange, silver rock in a small, minor asteroid field.
Incredibly, they stopped. Langford and Nadirian were totally nonplused.
The 80 creatures formed mathematically precise concentric circles about the rock and deflected all other asteroids and debris. Those identical infra-green pulses of energy were sent directly into the rock. In just a mini-lag, the surface fissured and began to crack open. Inside, another creature, totally unlike the Gurnia, was freed to the vacuum.
Whereas the surface of the Gurnia appeared smooth, beige and regular, this creature was pock-marked and filled with striations of varying color. It was mostly dark, but possessed bright red and violet pockets and stripes. It was more sponge-like than anything else. At first it seemed immobile, but that soon changed. It began whirling in violent bursts of revolutions, spinning quickly, then slowing, then repeating that performance.
Abruptly, all 80 Gurnia surged forward and attached themselves to the phenomenon when it slowed. It had to be the Pmadex Delvat. The sight was awesome, like a cluster of mushrooms on the base of a tree, an overly massed accumulation of barnacles on a ship’s bottom, or a gathering of clams in a coral reef. One by one, every Gurnia changed its color from beige to gold, as though the creature was infusing them with radiant luminescence.
Like the snap of two remembered fingers, Langford witnessed an even more startling development. The Gurnia communicated with the foreign galaxy in a multi-colored, sweetly smelling transmission of unmistakably clarified happiness. Then they simply disappeared, vanished as though magic were their milieu.
“Why are you smiling?” asked Nadirian.
“I get to reward a good friend, but even better, I will see my family.”
“I tracked the Gurnia. They went back the way they came.”
“Unbelievable. The Prail were correct as usual.”
“All that, just to rescue the thing, whatever it was.”
“No, Nadirian. It goes back to something much more basic.”
“They wanted to get laid.” *
About the Author: William Alan Rieser, born in New York City, less than 3 miles from the World Trade Center, originally was a musician and spent many years composing, conducting, teaching, and performing music on the East Coast. His earliest writing influences were Tolkien, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Poul Anderson. He retired to Fort Worth, Texas, with his wife, Sandra, who edited his writings. For several years he experimented with short stories for SF/F e-zines but then concentrated on more developed themes. In recent years, he published “The Kaska Trilogy” and “The Chronicles of Zusalem” via Writers Club Press, an organization associated with iUniverse and Barnes and Noble. His novel “Luna Parabella” received a rave review at Amazon.com. His articles, humorous and serious, have been published many places, and included his column at scifantastic. Bill enjoyed talking to writers, novice or professional, and always encouraged contact. In July of 2005, Bill passed away. He will be remembered fondly by everyone who knew him.
(c) 2005 William Alan Rieser firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Artist: Carl Goodman has been working in design, illustration, and animation for nearly twenty years; he’s based in the UK and grew up on a diet of Clarke, Asimov, and Heinlein, which probably explains a lot.
(c) 2005 Carl Goodman www.image-design.co.uk