By Betty Adams
“Commander,” the Investigator ran his primary leg over his optic frills in exasperation, “I freely acknowledge that your authority on this mission is nearly absolute.”
The larger and more powerful Commander bristled in agitation and pulled his legs in stiffly in anticipation of a reprimand. The Investigator fought down a chitter of exasperation and turned his attention briefly to the report in his secondary leg to gather his thoughts. The small tent they were currently in flapped in the breeze and the Investigator wondered at the strange structure. This entire situation was…odd. The exploration of the newly discovered planet was supposed to have been a reward to one of the Cluster’s most distinguished warriors. A restful examination of a world that the smooth headed elders of the Cluster had no real expectation of winning. True, this new species added a new complication and they had landed disturbingly close on the same landmass. But none of that explained Commander Trill’th’s bizarre behavior. The only thing that stood between Trill’th and a court marshal at this point was his sterling record. No one in the Cluster hierarchy wanted to believe that the Hero of Tsoons was capable of treason.
“Now you say that turning control of the main computer nodes over to the technician from the human camp was justified due to the threat of imminent death to both your crew and the crew of the Flighted?” The Investigator asked.
“It is all in my report,” Commander Trill’th hissed in irritation.
“Yes, yes,” the Investigator agreed. “But I am afraid that the death of your Archivist has left the state of the records quite disordered.”
Trill’th twitched his mandibles in agreement and grief flicked across his eyes. The Investigator decided to put that investigation to the side for the moment. Exposure was the only listed cause of death and the genuine terror, confusion, and sadness he had observed in the crew led him to believe that what had happened to the young clerk was indeed an accident.
“I simply wanted to clarify-“ the Investigator was interrupted as a loud clicking alarm snapped through the air.
The Commander reacted without hesitation, darting from the tent at full speed to investigate the alarm. The Investigator suppressed another irritated chitter and began to gather his papers back into his carrying case. He arranged it on his back and followed the path of the Commander out, tasting the fear spiked pheromones Trill’th had left on the pads of his motile legs. He found the Commander and the rest of the surviving officers clustered at the edge of the absurdly tall security fence. The crew was focused on a rapidly approaching figure. From the well beaten path that led out across the grassy plain away from the camp this was a well used route. Almost a full road if it wasn’t for the lack of pavement. But the size of the approaching vehicle was explanation enough for the size.
“That is a human,” the Investigator observed in what he hoped was a neutral voice as he reached the cluster of officers.
“Sergeant Angelo,” Commander Trill’th informed him curtly. “Male, barely into prime breeding age, generally friendly and very open to interspecies interaction.”
“And is that one of those helicopters you mentioned?” The Investigator asked. He knew very well that it wasn’t but the exasperated looks he received told him that the ploy had worked. A display of ignorance not specific to one’s line of work made others see one as less of a threat.
“It’s is a motorcycle.” On the technicians informed him. “The interesting thing? Even though it has no gyroscopic balance system it stays upright. The human has to constantly keep adjusting his position to maintain velocity.”
The Investigator signaled his understanding and approached the Commander directly.
“Are you going to let him into the camp?” the Investigator asked quietly.
“Yes,” Trill’th answered in a flat tone.
“What security measures are you taking?” the Investigator asked cautiously.
Trill’th spun on him and raised his primary manipulating legs aggressively. “Letting the human in is a security measure.”
The Investigator carefully kept his body language neutral. “How so?”
“Do you see the flag on the back of the motorcycle?” Trill’th demanded.
The Investigator turned his eyes towards the approaching machine and its giant rider. “I do,” he agreed.
“It reflects light in the six hundred nano-meter range. That means that whatever news he brings ignoring it could kill us!” The Commander snarled.
The Investigator signaled his assent carefully. This situation was clearly beyond his current understanding and he needed more information before he acted. The motorcycle drew closer and the tension was rising in the small cluster when the ground began to shake. The Investigator stiffened and looked around frantically. The cluster tightened around him and the Commander rested and comforting led on his head.
“Steady,” the Commander warned.
“What is that to the south?” one of the lesser officers demanded.
They all turned and began to chitter as they saw the growing plume of …something.
“Is that smoke?” The Investigator asked fighting back his terror.
“The human probably knows,” Trill’th offered. “It is unlikely that the red flag and this is unrelated.”
“He had stopped!” The Investigator observed.
“The ground movement must have interfered with his movement.” Trill’th speculated.
The giant biped was indeed stopped. He – if the Commander was correct on the human’s sex – was standing on the still rolling ground easily holding up the weight of the two-wheeled machine. The Investigator felt a thrill of unease at the casual display of raw strength. The human –Sergeant Angelo- made a few quick movements and the motorcycle was left standing on its own while he switched out the so called red flag with one that appeared to reflect in the high five-hundred nano-meter range. The small cluster visibly relaxed and the Investigator looked to the Commander for explanation, lightly tapping the Commander’s optic frills for an explanation.
“That is an orange flag,” Trill’th explained. “It signifies a lesser but still potentially deadly threat.”
“He has slowed,” the Investigator observed.
“Whatever that,” Trill’th waved to the growing pillar of ... something … “was it might have been far worse. He was coming to warn us of it. I assume you cut off outside communication when you arrived?”
“As is protocol,” the Investigator replied uneasily.
“Well you didn’t get us killed,” chattered the Commander. “Let’s go find out what horror the humans are intimately aware of this time.”
The Investigator signaled his assent as they moved towards the gate. Perhaps the fearsome reputation that preceded the humans was less fiction than he had presumed. That aside, he glanced nervously at the billowing pillar of smoke like substance, the Commander’s strange orders were beginning to seem more likely to be legitimate. They would have to wait and see. The motorcycle rolled to a stop outside the gate and the human strode in as it opened for him.
“That was some volcano hey?” he asked flashing his teeth at them widely as he pulled up the protective coverings that had been shield his luminous tri-colored eyes. “Hey-what?”
The cluster sprinted forward and raced up the giant bi-ped’s legs to perch on his shoulders. The Investigator followed along observing carefully. The human tensed, what was visible of his soft supple skin grew tight and then relaxed as the individuals of the cluster stilled and clung to him.
“So…never seen an eruption before eh?” the human asked.
“Angelo,” the Commander demanded in the human’s language, running out onto the human’s arm so he could stare into the human’s newly revealed eyes. “What in the name of the Home Cluster was that?” He waved at the still growing plume.
“Just the planet releasing some pressure,” the human answered. “We were worried it might be real big though. Barring any other information it should be fine now. Good for the scientists and no one died right?” The human flashed his teeth again.
The Investigator wondered if that was supposed to be a comforting gesture as the Commander worked to get more specific details out of the human. The Commander’s behavior was odd, but if the planet itself was flinging smoke into the sky… The Investigator shuddered as the human swayed in response to the ground moving again. He somehow doubted that he would be able to justify persecuting Trill’th.