By Lewis Masters
Illtheaar stood, frozen by fear, the long-handled garden hoe still in his grip. Three fingers were gripping the wooden handled shaft so tightly the blisters on his palm began to pop and ooze. The shaking started as a slight tremble in his cheeks, but quickly built to a crescendo of tiny violent spasms that threatened to completely incapacitate him. The beads of sweat creating runnels down his head and dripping all around him, stinging a few of his eyes. The twin suns in the sky were hot, though it wasn’t solar rays causing his extreme sweating. It was mid-day in Egrassanelian, heat was to be expected, and he was used to it having been a farmer for almost six years. The fields needed tending, and he had no workers other than his young son and mate who were both at the homestead grabbing a quick meal before heading back out to help him.
The loud boom he had heard almost thirty minutes ago was a curiosity, an odd thing that sounded more like heat lightning hitting a rock than an explosion, except it was louder than a lightning strike, loud enough that he could feel the vibrations. When Illtheaar looked into the sky for a source, he saw no clouds, the bright greenish blue sky was as clear as always, this time of year. After a moment of pondering, he went back to his lalktha root crop, which was starting to wither from the mid-summer heat. He needed to get it harvested before it rotted in the dirt, and so after nary a second thought about the odd disturbance, he went back to work.
After a few minutes, he noticed something in the distance beyond his fields, and at the edge of where the fallow grasses met the Sundrear trees. At first, he assumed it was a courthier, known for hunting at night, but also sneaking around during the day time in the shadows of the forest when they were hungry or nursing. Illtheaar spared a moment to stare at the beast. Illtheaar couldn’t distinguish what he was seeing well in the bright noon day suns. It was common among the Hokatha to have middling vision in the bright sunlight, two of his four eyes being adapted to low light conditions and kept mostly shut during the day. His remaining two eyes struggled to see the creature moving in his general direction.
He focused as best he could, and after a few minutes he realized, this thing was smaller than any courthier, and it walked on two legs, rather than the six that most creatures his world had evolved with. “How odd”, he thought, but it was almost a half kilometer away, too far to be of concern. “Probably just some children from the neighboring village wandering the edge of the fiedls and playing hunter.”, his internal monologue said.
That was ten minutes ago, and now, Illtheaar was gripped by fear. The thing standing before him had almost no fur at all, except on the top of its head. It had only two eyes. It had small, rounded ears, and no claws or weapons, obviously a herbivore of some kind. It came up to his mid-chest, but it looked completely un-natural to him. The smell coming off it was an odor he could only relate to something riddled with disease. “These things must be infested with viruses and bacteria.” Was his first thought.
That’s when the shaking started. Anything that infectious and sick must have been evil, a demon of some kind, come to kill him and eat him. Illtheaar knew this line of thinking was illogical, there were no such things as demons after all, but this creature was unlike anything he’d ever experienced, and it seemed unconcerned with him, almost…curious. Its gate was awkward, but seemed at ease moving towards him, two small hands with five digits were out in front of it as if it was trying to push the air away as it moved confidently and slowly towards him.
Illtheaar wanted to run, to scream, to do anything. But the fight or flight instinct of his race kicked in, and his body froze like those of his ancient ancestors that were hunted by motion-based predators who would walk right past a still Hokatha if it was quite enough, frozen enough.
The creature stopped about three meters away. Its hands still held out in front of it. It bared its teeth slightly. This caused Illtheaar to relax a bit. Not because of any recognition of the expression, but because those teeth were blunt and flat, no predator would have teeth like this, even one as alien as this thing.
Illtheaar’s shaking stopped, but his grip on the hoe didn’t relent. The creature put one hand down slowly, glancing at a small device with multiple lights and symbols that was attached to his mid-section. He pushed something and slowly returned his hand. The Hokatha tensed a bit, waiting for something to happen. To his surprise the thing spoke to him. Illtheaar’s eyes, all four of them despite the bright sun, opened wide in shock. He heard a grumbling sound coming out of its mouth, but almost immediately a far louder voice came from his chest area, he spoke Hokathan, through some kind of device.
“Greetings Hokathan!” Said the creature slowly. “My name is Commander Samuel Morton.” Illtheaar was shaken out of his shock by the booming voice that transmitted directly from its chest. It continued after a moment. “I mean you no harm. I simply request your assistance.” The creature spoke no more, seemingly waiting for Illtheaar to respond.
“Are you a demon?” Asked Illtheaar after considering a few moments, still not understanding what was happening. Subconsciously he moved the hoe forward in a defensive position in front of him, thought the creature made no threatening moves. Illtheaar wasn’t religious by nature, but he remembered the sermons and stories of his childhood. Creatures that would take those who were alone and corrupt or kill them for pure enjoyment. He couldn’t recall any stories about things that walked upright on two legs and had a hairless body, but maybe that was by design.
The creature barked many times in a row and its head tilted backwards, some kind of emotional response, causing it to lean over and put its hands on what passed for knees. After a few moments it returned to it’s standing position but no longer raising its hands. Illtheaar had no idea whether this was anger, or amusement, or frustration, but it made no additional moves, so he waited, trying to see what it would do next.
“A demon? Oh, most definitely not.” it put its hands back up as if to fend off an attacker. “We are…” the creatures head turned slightly, a sign in Hokathan that would mean thinking about something. “…observers from far away.”
The Hokathan pondered this statement. The creature, he realized, was being cagey, as if it was uncertain what to tell him. He huffed and snorted from his nostrils. The Hokathan gesure for not being amused but not quite annoyed yet. “You must be from very far away, I’ve never heard of hairless, two legged herbivores that like to watch Hokathans work their fields. Are you trying to steal our farming techniques?”
The creature blinked, as if caught off guard by Illtheaar’s statement. Apparently, his sarcasm could transcend race. Illtheaar didn’t know why, but this made it seem more natural, less like an evil spirit and more like a Hokathan in personality.
“Yes…well,” it seemed to stumble over its words. “… we weren’t really watching YOU, per se. We have little interest in your farming techniques. We were observing this planet… Hokatha. You see, we are from out there.” It pointed to the sky. It made what could only be described as a grand gesture, pointing one of its digits up towards the great green. “We come from a different planet, and are here to observe your world, normally we do not interfere, and simply watch from a distance. But…” It stopped and looked down at the ground for a good five seconds before continuing. “Something happened to our vessel, and we had to land, just beyond the trees.” it pointed back in the direction it came from. “It was a one-in-a-million micrometeorite strike, it hit our port nacelle just as we were changing magnetic repulsion frequencies, something we’ve done a thousand times over the last six months, but this time it caused failure of our port reactor, we had to shut it down, and the starboard reactor took tangential electrical damage because of it as well. Something that the manufacturer assured us couldn’t happen.” It grumbled and turned its head slightly, but the only sound Illtheaar heard was “Translation unable to process, standard translation does not allow for profanity, please manually edit database for custom translation”. The fur above the creature’s eyes scrunched down and it frantically tapped on the device on his side. “Sorry, please ignore that last part, it was a technical glitch.” After a moment it stopped tapping and turned to face him again. “To continue, we used the majority of our remaining battery to descend and land while keeping stealth protocols intact.”
Illtheaar was lost. He had no idea what nacelles were, or what a micrometeorite was, maybe some kind of weapon? It sounded like it was, since it damaged something on this creature’s ship. He knew what stealth was, but not how it applied here or what a battery did and why you needed one to be stealthy.
“So…” Illtheaar said, trying to piece together this creature’s story from the confusing bits. “Your ship was damaged, and now you had to land to repair it. And you need my help because?” He waited for the creature to reply.
“It’s not so simple as repairing it. We don’t have the tools to repair the damage that was caused to the port reactor, we should be able to jumpstart the starboard one, but we need to recharge our batteries for that, and for that we need to roll out almost fifty square meters of solar foil. These ships take an enormous amount of energy to start up, and to recharge the three-gigawatt battery will take weeks using nothing but solar energy. Someone from your village will most definitely discover it. One of our primary directives is non-involvement. We wanted to observe your society without influencing it. At least, until you achieve space flight. Showing your people advanced technology will inevitably alter your future. I cannot be party to that kind of blunder; it will ruin my career and make me a laughing stock.”
Illtheaar only understood a small amount of what this odd creature was saying, but he recognized someone in distress when he heard it. He wasn’t mean or callous by nature, but he realized this creature, this alien had access to technology that his people did not. Apparently, they were centuries ahead of the Hokatha, at the very least. He smelled an opportunity. His ears flicked back, causing the creature to turn its head again oddly. The creature must have been observing for a while because it seemed to understand Hokathan amusement expressions.
“What is it you want from me, Commander Samuel Morton?” Illtheaar said. His grip on the hoe relaxing now. His mind was in overdrive thinking about how this could benefit him. Better crops possibly? A better way to get water to his very thirsty charges maybe. Pest deterrents would be very useful. Illtheaar’s inner thoughts were a jumble of hopes and expectations.
“It’s simple really.” Said the diminutive creature. He reached behind his back and pulled out a small, black, rolled up piece of cloth. As the creature unrolled it, it held the cloth out for Illtheaar to look at. The shiny black cloth had small gold lines etched through it at regular angles.
“This is a small example of what our solar array looks like, we simply unroll a large section, in direct sunlight, and use a microwave transmitter to beam the energy back to the battery. Fifty square meters should do nicely. We need you to help us hide the array in plain sight. Our ship can be hidden, but the charging arrays cannot. We’re asking you to tell anyone in the village that you’re testing out some kind of new seed sprouting technique, or something like that, anything that you think they will believe, as long as they don’t think it’s an alien structure. We can move it anywhere you like within about a kilometer range of our ship, as long as there is sunlight, and we can see the location of our ship, we can direct the microwave to our ship.”
Illtheaar thought for a moment before nodding. “I think I have an idea. We have a lot of pests in our fields, burrowing gornos that eat our lalktha roots, they don’t like the mid-summer heat and tend to burrow deep in the summer, I can say this is a new technique I’m using to heat the ground lower, keep away the gornos. You can put your…” he paused, trying to remember what the thing called it.” solar array there, in the fallow fields, assuming your ship is still close enough to do so.” He pointed to the spot near where the creature emerged from the fields.
The commander turned and looked at the location, as if evaluating the area, and then turned back to Illtheaar with those teeth gleaming brightly. “Yes, that will do nicely. Once we set it up, we will only come out after dark to check on it. We won’t bother you any more after that. Once we get a few weeks of charging in, we’ll leave your world and you’ll never hear from us again.”
Illtheaar tilted his head. “Of course, in doing this for you, I am going to be neglecting my fields in order to head off any Hokathans that come around for a look. it would only be just if I received something in return. Do you have anything that you could offer me and my family?”
The creature curled his lower lip up under its teeth. Consternation, weariness? Thought Illtheaar. “We have studied your race for a very long time. We understand that you prefer barter, so we are prepared to help you in some small way. Nothing that will drastically change the future of your culture, but a nudge, something that your people would discover soon anyway. Tell me what you would need most, and I will see what we can do.”
Illtheaar smiled, a gesture denoted by his ears pinning to the back his head. The creature saw this and curled its ocular fur down again, it was obvious to Illtheaar that it understood this expression, but that only strengthened his position. And he became a wealthy Hokathan.