A novella by Canadian Science Fiction Author
Phyllis K Twombly
Chief engineer Max Bruin sensed the change in direction of his escape pod. Instead of a continued ascent to the surface it felt like the pod was being moved sideways. “Hell of an undercurrent,” he muttered to himself. He tried again to open his eyes. They still ached from the blinding flash of light that had burst from his computer screen back on the Andreas.
When the pod opened the air took on a strange fish-like odor. Small hands tugged on his sleeves. He followed their guidance, grateful that the crew had found him so quickly. There was no sound except for a background hum and the sound of their footsteps. “I’m grateful for the rescue, guys. But why is everyone being so quiet? Did we take refuge in a tomb or something?”
He was answered by a series of clicks and whistles.
Bruin chuckled in spite of his pain. “I see. Still playing pranks on the chief engineer, are we? I hate to spoil the fun but could you take me to whatever now passes for sick bay? My eyes are killing me.”
The two figures guiding him stopped. One of them touched a hand to his temple. Through squinting eyes he thought he saw a bit of blue flesh. He groaned.
“Oh, that’s just great. My vision starts to come back and nothing’s the right color.”
Bruin allowed his hand to be guided until he felt a long flat surface. “An examining table! Now we’re making progress.” He allowed himself to be helped onto the surface. He’d just begun to relax when he realized straps were being secured around his arms and legs. He tried to sit up but a hand gently pressed against his forehead. There were more clicks and whistles. A thought flashed through Bruin’s mind just before he passed out. Perhaps it wasn’t his crewmates who had found him but the aliens who lived in the Aquarium.
Captain Dion felt a smooth wet sensation on her skin. The blue creature had wrapped its webbed hand around hers. She let it lead her down a dim corridor. There was an entrance to another chamber at the end of it. Once inside she compulsively gripped the alien’s hand harder. She was completely unprepared for the sight before her.
Max Bruin, chief engineer of the Andreas, lay prostrate inside a water filled chamber. An opening around his face allowed for limited head movement. Bruin managed to turn slightly towards her. “Hello, Captain. Did everyone get off the Andreas safely?”
Captain Dion shook off her shock. “Uh, yes. These creatures were very helpful in bringing us all here. We haven’t found any way to communicate with them yet.”
Bruin waved his arm inside the water surrounding him. “That’s what this device is for. Don’t ask me how it works but it translates their clicks and whistles into thoughts and images. It’s quickly becoming more like speech. I guess that means they’re learning English. We’ve been exchanging quite a few ideas…”
Dion approached the tube and gently placed her hands on it. “Are you okay in this thing?”
“Never better. Now look over there.” Bruin rolled his eyes in the direction of a console she hadn’t noticed before. The blue creature walked over and tapped it. A look of concentration crossed Bruin’s face as the creature emitted a series of clicks and whistles.
“He says something like, ‘it’s a pleasure to host such charming creatures.’ I think he used the word charming. Either that or he thinks we’re naïve. He wants to apologize if we found their behavior aggressive.”
Dion frowned slightly. “Tell him we’re grateful for the hospitality. Ask him if there’s any other way to communicate that would allow you to get out of this thing.”
Bruin wriggled slightly. Clicks and whistles filled the air before he could speak. “The translation is already automatic for them. This device is for our benefit. Once they analyze enough of our language they should be able to create a computer program we can all use.”
Dion raised her eyebrows. “Just how long is this analysis supposed to take?” She sighed as another series of clicks and whistles broke into the relative quiet.
Bruin smiled patiently. “A day, maybe two. I’ll be a bit wrinkled by then but think of the science and technology we’ll be able to exchange when we can communicate freely. They have so many questions.”
Dion scowled. “Maybe we shouldn’t tell them everything.”
Bruin bit his lip. “It’s too late for that. They know everything that was in the Andreas computer: programs, personal logs, passwords, everything. We have no secrets from these people. Actually they find us a bit primitive. We could stand to learn some of their sciences.”
Captain Dion turned around at the sound of multiple footsteps. The eighty-seven men and women who made up the crew of the Andreas were being escorted into the chamber by more blue creatures.
Dion turned to Bruin. “What’s going on?”
“The inhabitants of this planet require water submersion at least twice a day. This chamber has been set up to provide us with oxygen while our hosts go for their swim. It’s quite a feat of engineering. They’ve put together a series of rotating air pods to provide the upper half of this chamber with a breathable atmosphere while the rest of the facility is flooded. The water levels in here should only rise about four feet…unless a seal breaks. Then we could be in trouble.”
Dion shook her head. “Tell them we have emergency gear for situation like this on our spaceship.”
“They’ve already taken the liberty of bringing that gear from the Andreas. It’s in the compartment outlined by lights if you need it. The water is about to start coming in. You’d better tell everyone what’s going on.”
Dion turned to address her crew. “Alright, here’s the situation. Our hosts seem to be able to breathe underwater. They need to be submerged in water twice a day and they’ve designed this compartment to give us air while they swim around. We’re still going to get wet because four feet of water will be allowed into this compartment. I don’t want to hear any panic or complaining. If anything goes wrong I want each department leader to proceed to retrieve scuba gear for their team from that compartment.” She pointed to the door outlined in lights.
Bruin chuckled. “I beg to be excused from that assignment, Captain.”
Gibbs stepped forward. “I’d be happy to fill in for you, Chief.”
Dion smiled. “You chose your team well, Mr. Bruin.”
The crew of the Andreas watched with a mix of curiosity and amazement as their hosts swam through the water they stood in. Dion kept a watchful eye on the chamber containing her chief engineer. She raised her eyebrows when one of the blue creatures began to adjust a segment of the tube just below Bruin’s shoulders.
Bruin winked at her. “It’s alright, Captain. At first they weren’t sure what part of the human body was the equivalent of their melon. That’s the sound organ in the front of their heads…”
“Thank you. I know what a dolphin’s melon is, Mr. Bruin.”
“These creatures believe it’s more like their seat of emotion and instinct. They make less differentiation between the mind and the emotions than we do. That’s something important to keep in mind when you begin negotiations with them.”
Dion frowned. “What will I be negotiating for, Mr. Bruin?”
A dark look briefly crossed the man’s face. “I can’t tell you right now. They’re about to start listening to my thoughts again.” He smiled brightly at her as two of the creatures resealed the tube against his shoulders. They pulled the rest of the tube away to give him more freedom of movement.
Next time; negotiations with the aliens.
Phyllis K Twombly