Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
Vandens loomed like a massive burned-out firework at one edge of the universe. Keeper and the volunteer crew aboard the cigar-shaped cryonic ship streaked passed endless star systems within the E4 elliptical galaxy. All the outward planets had been charred into gaping-holed cinders by the destructive violence of the ever-advancing Swarm. So far there had been no contact with the advanced insect species. “Perhaps the Vabalas have dined and dashed,” First Officer Jeff Bland suggested, “taking a short nap before they consume another million worlds.”
“I purposely approached this galaxy from the back side,” Keeper said as he studied patterns created by colored streams of water vapor in one section of the alien control room. “Our hungry hosts are still here, and they are not finished eating. Would you like to listen?”
“Sound waves in space?” Jeff laughed. “I always believed it was impossible for particles of matter to vibrate inside a vacuum.”
“Space is not a vacuum,” Keeper said. “It is a fabric woven of dark energy that bends light, creates gravity and allows the universe to expand. There is movement in all matter even dark types … didn’t you ever jump on your bed as a child?”
“I slept in a tin-can trailer house with a low ceiling and an even lower stepmother named Tina,” Jeff said. “I would have banged my head … or she would have.”
You must learn to forgive yourself and others Junior Bill,” Keeper smiled. The way he pronounced the name sounded eerily like the fat, abusive slob who married Jeff’s father.
“Once you are able to detect dark matter,” Keeper continued. “A computer can transform any changes in its normal structure patterns into sound waves.”
Keeper handed Jeff a pair of headphones designed to fit an oversized amphibian head. “Why not just play the sound over the audio channels?” Jeff asked as he adjusted and put them on.
“We have a hundred nervous crew members and twenty innocent students on board an alien cargo ship,” Keeper said. “And we’re going to a very dangerous place. Why give them nightmares before we arrive?”
When Bland motioned that he was ready to hear what the Swarm sounded like, his smile suddenly became open mouthed astonishment and then transformed into a look of terror as Keeper turned up the volume. Jeff ripped the headphones from his ears and flung them on the control room floor.
Keeper was quick to turn down the volume but a faint chewing sound mixed with humanoid screams coming from the headphones made Jeff’s blood run cold. “I’ve only heard something that hideous once in my life,” he gasped. “It was an audio recording the Nazis on Earth made inside of an experimental Birkenau death-chamber during one of their tests in 1939. Two hundred Polish men, women and children crowded into a tiny room took over an hour to die from corrosive Phosgene gas.”
“I wanted you to know what we’re getting into,” Keeper said. “The universe is filled with as much beauty as it is with ugliness; the important thing to remember is that there is balance in all things.”
Leika appeared and posed next to a sickened Jeff. “Like beauty and the beast!” She smiled, flashing emerald green eyes while wearing a new gown of Alurian spider-silk that shimmered with rainbow-colored diamonds.
“I’ve never seen you wear the same outfit twice,” Jeff stared. She was a gorgeous distraction. “It must cost ten thousand credits a month just to keep your wardrobe supplied. What do you do with the old ones?”
“Thirty thousand … and I burn them,” Leika sneered. “Once your slimy eyes have dripped on my garments … they are ruined forever.”
“Have you been in communication with the Centurion,” Keeper asked her.
“Yes,” Leika said. “The Aquadunans have all been unfrozen and are now swimming happily inside one of the oceans in Biosphere 3.”
“Has our guide Gogt been adapted to land yet?”
“We’re still working on it,” Leika said. “He hasn’t proven to be as compliant as Teuth and might have to remain submerged inside a water tube for some time.
Just then the door to the cargo hold opened and Gogt floated toward them inside a transparent tube filled with sea water. A group of shivering cadets dressed in warm Gordo fur trailed behind.
“Wow! It’s cold in there,” a half-Porosities cadet named Yanadax shivered. “But we had to search all twelve storage areas for Ledos.” She took off her coat revealing a smock made from the same expensive and mildly hypnotic silk that Leika wore as she glanced shyly at the young man from Earth.
“What are Ledos?” Jeff smiled at the female student.
“Ledos are very tiny and very rare life-forms,” Keeper said noticing Leika’s sudden animosity and stepping between his two female crew members. “Many are so small that they resemble ice crystals when frozen. I’m afraid we don’t know too much about them. Legends say they have magical properties. Some scientists think they are dangerous.”
“What would Ledos be doing onboard a vessel filled with seafood going to the Swarm?” Jeff asked.
“Most water worlds are filled with very tiny life forms much like Earth’s plankton,” Keeper said. “Creatures from the same family as Ledos and sea-plants make up at least sixty percent of the Vabalas diet.”
“Did you find any?” Jeff asked.
“I think so,” Yanadax said. She lifted one arm high in the air and wiggled her fingers. The smile on her face was delightful. Tiny glimmering specks of white floated in the air like snowflakes. “They sing,” she said turning her gorgeous head to listen. “They begin to sing when they get warm.”
“They are so small what good are they?” Dorg asked.
“There is a point in infinity where the smallest of all things and the largest become exactly the same,” Keeper said.
“Strange! I don’t hear a thing.” Jeff looked at Keeper and he shook his head. Only Leika appeared to be holding her ears. “That sound is the highest frequency I’ve ever heard,” she moaned.
The cigar shaped ship had no name. Keeper and Bland searched through the onboard computers and could only find a numerical designation. “419419 something about that number gives me the creeps,” Jeff said. “But at least it’s not 666.”
“I don’t understand you Earth people’s absurd fear of numbers,” Leika said. She thought for a moment. “If you could associate a number with my name what would it be?”
“Love potion number nine,” Keeper said.
“Ninety-six tears,” Jeff insisted.
“I don’t understand!” Leika was looking at both men strangely.
“You would have had to have been there,” Keeper told her.
419419 was leaving the burned- out solar systems and was beginning to fly past celestial bodies where vast amounts of water still covered the planet’s surface. “Aquaduna 13 is just ahead,” Helmsman Dorg announced to the crew. A massive ocean world loomed before them with hundreds of cigar-shaped vessels plowing through deep green seas just under the surface. Each ship opened one end like a monstrous Baleen whale’s mouth and strained millions of fleeing life forms from the seawater.
“We’re in luck,” Gogt said. “Garwon and his friends working for the Swarm won’t be able to finish loading all the remaining food supplies before Mėnulis rises.”
“Who or what is Mėnulis?”
“Mėnulis is an enormous moon that orbits Aquaduna 13.” Gogt said. “It passes very close to the ocean’s surface every seventy-two hours and creates massive tides that rise eight miles into the atmosphere.”
“That sounds treacherous,” Jeff said. “How do Garwon’s ship’s ride out such a massive surge?”
“They don’t,” Gogt said. “They return to space until the moon moves to the other side of the planet. All the transport vessels should be leaving for the safety of orbit shortly.”
Sure enough the cigar-shaped ships began to leave the water and fly back into space as a strange reflected light began to settle over the ship.
“What about us?” Jeff said. “I don’t have my long-board and I don’t know if this giant Tiparillo can ride a wave eight miles high.”
“We go under the water,” Gogt said.
“Now?’ Dorg’s eyes were like tiny bright and nervous moons.
“Also you have to spin,” Gogt told him.
“Spin?” After seeing a nod from Keeper, Dorg had already directed the alien ship toward the surface of the water. All the hair on his arms, legs and canine tail were extended outward in excited anticipation.
“Aquaduna’s moon generates a massive upward pull on the ocean water,” Gogt said. “The only way to move downward it is by spinning or rotating at very high speed thus converting rotational motion into linear motion. The 419419’s engines should supply the necessary torque and the curved heat-dispersing channels on the sides act like tiny threads.”
“Then it’s like we’re turning this ship into a massive lag-bolt!” Keeper was intrigued.
A tremendous shock wave shook the ship when it plunged into the water. Jeff and most of the crew were knocked to the floor holding onto whatever they could grasp. The ship had already begun to spin and Jeff felt like he was on a wild carnival ride complete with the nausea. The only three people who didn’t seem affected by hurtling downward into the ocean appeared to be Keeper, Gogt and the Organic Science Officer. The ship’s captain had only a kind of flickering illumination where a person’s feet would have been and he appeared to float in the air while the ship spun around him. The cephalopod alien appeared stationary inside a tube filled with seawater and a giggling Leika appeared to be dancing. The space cadets were rolling around on the floor and bouncing off the walls. They all seemed to be laughing.
“It appears to be working,” Dorg said watching the light arrays as he spun. “We are moving toward the bottom of the ocean and we should be there in minutes.
“Such an elementary concept,” Keeper mused. “But so effective! Converting rotational action into linear motion that moves against an opposing force!” They were so far under the surface of the water no light entered through the portholes.
“We have another name for this on Earth.” Jeff was clinging to a support beam attempting to peer out a window and trying not to vomit.
“What’s that?” Keeper still looked elated.
“We’re screwed,” Jeff said.
Minutes later, the 419419 vessel reached the bottom of one of Aquaduna 13’s oceans. The tidal pull from the orbiting moon was pulling silt and mud off the ocean floor and it was too cloudy to see out even with the exterior lights on full magnitude. “What do we do now?” Keeper asked Gogt.
“We’ll look for the closest shelf,” Gogt said. “My people are used to these tides. During the moon’s pull most all sea life retreats under plates of bedrock undermined millions of years ago by water currents. I’m sure many had already sought refuge there when they discovered that agents for the Swarm were harvesting.”
“Sounds cozy,” Jeff said.
“It’s the closest thing we have to a home as you know it,” Gogt said. “Still I’m sure it will seem strange to creatures like yourselves.”
It was Leika’s turn to tutor the students and she gave a demonstration of getting what you want by manipulating others. She directed the cadet’s attention to one of the volunteers standing guard next to the ship’s transporter. “I’ll get his attention, then I’ll use mind control to make him give me something he values,” Leika began to hum and spin at the same time. The glimmering spines she had on the top of her head instead of hair spread outward like streamers from a maypole. The guard stared entranced. “Now for the fun part,” Leika told them. “I’ll have him give me his weapon and then grovel at my feat like a hungry Borgo hound.”
The guard stumbled toward Leika as if in a trance but just before he reached her Yanadx laughed and the guard was distracted and went reluctantly back to his post. He couldn’t seem to keep his eyes off the enchanting Porosities.
“Do you think ruining my demonstration is humorous?” Leika was furious.
“I’m sorry,” Yanadax said. “But the Ledos have formed themselves into a block with four wheels and they have been driving up and down my arm … it tickles!”
Leika was about to tell the student that the rare creatures would have to be kept in a special container when she suddenly covered her ears although only Yanadax seemed to hear the sound.
“They knew you were going to put them away and they don’t want to go!” Yanadax called as Leika ran to another part of the ship.
The murky water finally cleared enough for Keeper and Gogt to find an opening beneath a shelf. They decided to leave the 419419 cigar ship behind and travel in containment bubbles so as not to alarm the creatures under the rock. The crew and the students moved through the large opening like a string of transparent pearls being pulled underwater by an invisible fishing line.
The space beneath the shelf was massive with thousands of schools of photon fish feeding just beneath the stone ceiling and sending light downward hundreds of yards above the ocean floor. A hundred square miles of ocean flora covered the space like an underwater forest complete with abundant life forms of every description. Brilliant colored flowers some as large as transport shuttles seemed to be illuminated from within. They were met by an astonished and somewhat frightened group of creatures who resembled both Teuth and Gogt.
“We detected your ship outside and thought that perhaps Garwon had figured out a way to force his way under the shelf and take us by surprise.” A creature who identified himself as Streng spoke the same language as Gogt and appeared to be very much relieved.
“We didn’t notice any defense mechanisms when we came in,” Keeper said. “What keeps the ships from moving inside?”
“The pull of the moon Mėnulis and the appetite of the Šviesos,” Streng said pointing to the photon fish swimming next to the ceiling. “They not only provide light to make our forests grow they also eat the same kind of metal that Gorwan’s ships are made of.”
“Surely with the high technology of the Swarm they could devise a way to pull you out. What keeps them from doing so?”
“We are small fish and the Vabalas are interested in much larger worlds!” Streng tried to joke but no one smiled. “The only reason the Swarm bother us is because Garwon and others offer to supply them with extra food in return for their own safety. The Vabalas are always multiplying and are always hungry.”
“We have an injured navigator aboard our own ship many light years from here,” Keeper told Streng. “He may be suffering from the effects of iridium gas radiation and we understand you might have a cure.”
“Our scientists discovered an antidote for IRD gas many years ago,” Streng told him. “And have adequate supplies in storage. Unfortunately when Garwon decided to harvest this planet the Vabalas left a small hive here as a sort of control lab to insure the food supply is up to their standards. The Swarm’s laboratory sits over an underwater steam vent in the same location as our own former facility.”
“Then your laboratory was destroyed and there is no way to get help for our navigator!” Jeff shook his head.
“The lab isn’t extinguished,” Streng said. “The Vabalas never destroy anything unless it’s a planet in the way of a large fleet. They build over it. To their way of thinking, energy is food and it must be conserved at all costs.”
“How far away is this hive?” Keeper asked.
“About ten hours travel time,” Gogt said. “But it’s useless to go there … we can’t get inside!”
Gogt shook his head. “Swarm hives are made of some of the Vabalas’s strongest materials. Matter and antimatter strands woven together to create a kind of spongy dome-shaped shield that allows essential nutrients in but keeps unwanted visitors out.”
“You mentioned a sponge,” Keeper said. “How big are the holes in a swarm hive?”
“Small and interconnected at right angles, only a creature as thin and flexible as a Karilian eel would have a chance of getting inside, and then they would have to get the antidote away from the Vabalas guarding it. I’m sorry for your navigator,” Gogt said.
The space cadets all began to laugh and Keeper, Jeff and Leika all turned to see what the commotion was about. Yanadax had transformed herself into something long and thin and she looked like a snake swimming inside her containment bubble. “I may not be a full blooded Karilian eel, I’m half Porosities and I don’t have green fangs, but I did slip inside the cadet administration building on Mateusz 17 through an air-filter once to snatch a copy of the final exam test questions for reverse light transport systems!” Yanadax suddenly gasped. “Oops I promised I would never admit to that!”
“If that’s all you did in school, kid, you deserve a medal.” Jeff smiled.
“I’m sorry but you’re too young and this mission is too dangerous,” Keeper sighed.
“I’ll go with her to make sure she doesn’t get into trouble,” Leika offered.
“I thought I heard Keeper say no!” Jeff looked at Leika and then at the distraught ship’s captain.
“We don’t really have any choice,” Keeper moaned.
Yanadax wandered into one of the unused cargo areas of the alien vessel while Keeper, Gogt and First Officer Bland made plans for stealing the antidote …. She wanted to be alone, and she made sure she was. A look of anticipation stole across her face as she removed a tiny very cold box from a bag she was carrying and carefully opened it. What looked like a frosty mist billowed out and Yanadax held her breath. “No one knows I’ve kept you around,” she whispered. “No one but me can hear your song … well perhaps Leika but she doesn’t count ‘cause she don’t like it.” Yanadax closed her eyes and smiled as the Ledos began to sing.
“I was ordered to leave you behind, but I’ll never go anywhere without you,” she sighed.
TO BE CONTINUED …