Eight officers of United Fleet patrolship HR-ICPMS, newly roused from cryogenic suspended animation, stumbled into the elevator pod. The remaining crew stared on, their still-muddled faces reflecting emotions ranging from jealousy to dread. Commander Sipsclar, tall with stern latin features, entered last, and seeing their disarray, gave a quick reassuring salute. That didn’t cheer up the crew as much as the obscene salute that the ship’s CR, a jovial Botswani named M’Nfeco, shot back. The Comm Relayer was adept at body language as well as standard quantum communications.
As the shipside crew went to work sealing the doors, Sipsclar turned around to face his officers in the pod. The doped panic they were struggling to overcome showed all too visibly in their faces. Even Sipsclar was only able to force himself into a semblance of alertness through an extreme effort of self-discipline.
“All right, men,” he said, trying desparately not to slur his words, “you know that this is an historic moment for mankind. You know the seriousness of this encounter.”
He paused and looked around the pod. Judging from the dilated eyes and clammy complexions, his crew realized all TOO well that this was not just another drill.
“Lieutenant Casctiv! Stand at attention!” Sipsclar barked the command with a dry throat. He knew that if their military conditioning would only kick in, then these men would begin to respond properly. And to his relief, they did come alive at his voice. Amid the miasma of his still-awakening consciousness, the irony was not lost on him that his men were more at ease when being yelled at.
“All right. Good,” he continued. “Officers of the United Fleet, I will remind you that this is NOT the first human-alien encounter.” He made a significant pause, and then continued. “But that does not mean that we can know what to expect.”
Sipsclar licked his dry lips and all eight of them tried not to think of the unlucky crew of the cargo ship who HAD made the first human-alien encounter. A few months after the opening of the wormhole, the ship and its dessicated crew were found orbiting the planet of the H’Helibeb. But after a State Of Emergency was declared and the entire United Fleet was called in, it turned out that this new species was less warlike than… Ignorant.
Ignorant of carbon-based life-forms, and somewhat heedless in their water collecting. It took no small amount of forbearance on the part of the entire human-colonized solar system to overlook that slight lapse of etiquette on the part of that offending species.
First impressions and faux-pas‘s aside, the H’Helibeb had become a lucrative trading partner for the human colonies, who have since been very profitably reclaiming water from meteor ice in exchange for the H’Helibeb’s curious ability to manufacture black holes.
The other five alien civilizations that human star ships had encountered brought varying other disasters to the unlucky crews involved. As a result, inter-space travel through the new wormhole was now strictly prohibited to all commercial spacecraft except in areas patrolled by the United Fleet. Even at that, the patrol ships were allowed only within a few parsecs of the boundaries of the United Colonies.
Mankind had scaled back its manifest destiny of the stars, at least for the short term.
Sipsclar continued his harangue, striving as much to sharpen his own mind as to waken his men. It had now been twenty-two minutes since they were jarred out of suspended animation by the ship’s proximity sensors.
“As you know, we have done a complete scan of the interior of the alien ship. It’s within acceptable temperature and pressure for supporting human life, but of course you all must remain completely sealed into your suits until the BRKR clears it of bio-agents. All weapons will be at the ready until I give the order. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir” their replies crackled back feebly.
“I can’t HEAR YOU!”
“YES, SIR!” They shouted back. The instantaneous ratcheting of their spunk made Sipsclar grin. His men! He was proud of them. He couldn’t ask for a finer group of officers to lead. Even if they were going to their deaths.
“Good. Any questions?” He looked around the pod, his face beaming with male bonhomie.
“Yes, Sir!” Korporal Casctiv, a robust Slav, spoke up from the back. “Who will lead the way when the doors open, Sir?”
Sipsclar thought a moment. K Casctiv had a good point. Would it be worse for the troops to lose their leader, should they be greeted by a hostile force? Or worse to abdicate the responsibility of this first contact to a subordinate? Commander Sipsclar decided to err on the side of boldness.
“I’m coming out first. I want you behind me, ready with your weapons. First Officer Cnofne will assume command from the ship if necessary. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir!” They shouted back this time with outright testosterone, and Sipsclar knew he had them in the state he wanted them.
“Then lower your visors. Contact in twenty-five seconds!”
Sipsclar smiled a confident smile. No matter what the next thirty seconds might bring, he felt confident now. He and his men would meet this situation to the best of their abilities.
He knew that the ship’s proximity sensor had roused the crew because this interstellar… thing… had continued heading for them despite auto-initiated evasive maneuvers. And although the ship’s hailing transmissions went completely unanswered, Ensign CR M’Nfeco was able to tune in to thought processes coming from the alien. This was an unexpected break, because Communications Relayers were not able to “talk” to any of the other five alien species contact thus far. A CR’s purpose was strictly interstellar communication with other human CRs. Since standard light-speed communication can take months or years to reach interstellar distances, patrol ships and colonies all use CRs implanted with quantum telepathy to communicate instantaneously.
When Sipsclar realized why they had been roused from SA, he had the CR contact home base immediately, and within minutes the United Fleet Admiral sent back a reply: “HR-ICPMS is ordered 1) to proceed in contacting the alien species, 2) to transmit all real-time information practicable using the CR, and 3) to collect and transmit full technical data via standard lightspeed communication.” The last command meant that, if the crew were obliterated within the next few minutes, at least some record of this encounter would come drifting back to the United Fleet base, eleven months later.
Despite all of his bravado when required to act, Captain Namgal Sipsclar was a cautious man, and in his view the United Fleet was too trusting with the other alien species. Before getting buddy-buddy with charlie, he preferred to verify their lack of threat to humanity. That is why he left M’Nfeco shipside; in a worst-case scenario the CR might be able to send an instantaneous warning to the United Fleet.
A voice buzzed through his helmet radio. “Sir, Cnofne here. We have radio contact with every member of the party.”
“That’s good. What are you getting on the cam?”
“Well… the sides of the alien’s, uh, landing platform thing have formed an air lock on the elevator pod. CR M’Nfeco is still in contact with the alien, and… what is it, M’Nfeco?”
“Sir, M’Nfeco here. I’m picking up the alien more clearly now. It’s calling itself Tawre, sir. And it’s… inviting you. The thoughts are still hard to decipher, but the feelings are strong… I’m getting clear positive feelings, welcoming feelings coming from it.”
Sipsclar’s heart leapt into his throat but he fought his fears back down. “Okay, M’Nfeco. Maintain whatever contact you can. Commander Cnofne, you remember your orders. Anything happens to us, you will do whatever is necessary to protect the ship.”
Cnofne’s nervousness was audible in his reply. He hated himself for his nervous Germanic temperament, contrasting so noticeably from the icy control of his Catalan commander. But he reigned in his rioting emotions and turned to face his worried ship-bound crew. Of the faces looking back at him, only the CR seemed unruffled. That comforted Cnofne. After all, the CR had the best idea of what was going on within that alien’s mind.
But something looked wrong. The CR was gazing idly into space, a dreamy smile playing on his lips. “M’Nfeco!” Cnofne shouted. “Knock off the daydreaming! Keep that report coming.”
M’Nfeco jerked guiltily to attention, then recommenced his narration, which was being transmitted back to HQ in a steady stream along with scanning data, audio-visual logs, and anything else they could think of. Cnofne stared helplessly through the viewport at the huge brownish blob that was Tawre’s ship. It had attached itself to the shaft and doors of the elevator pod like an enormous wad of chewing gum stuck to a tiny chair.
According to their scanners, there was a tunnel filled with oxygen and nitrogen at one point oh two atmospheres of pressure, connecting the door of the elevator pod to the center of the… the “ship.” No gravity had been established, but that was a lesser consideration. Cnofne glanced at a remote-sensor screen. Nine human forms were now clearly making their way through the tunnel toward the center of the ship. All nine crew members’ transmitters were working clearly, and their dialogue was also being fed into the recorder. Cnofne checked it: every thirty seconds, an update signal beamed off to HQ. It wouldn’t do the crew of HR-ICPMS any good if something went south, but at least mankind’s knowledge would be enriched by the encounter.
Sipsclar was talking to him. “Cnofne! Report!”
“Yes, sir. Nothing to report here, sir. Have you made contact yet?”
“Well, no, we haven’t. There doesn’t seem to be anybody on board at all. M’Nfeco! What’s the damn thing saying to you now?”
A pause. Cnofne looked over at his CR, who was dutifully mumbling into his headset. He shook M’Nfeco’s shoulder and shouted. “M’Nfeco! Report!”
“Uh, right…” M’Nfeco seemed to come back from some place very far away. “Well, it seems to be very curious… about us. It’s also frustrated, which I think is because it can’t seem to understand me very clearly. Evidently our methods of communicating are unintelligible to it.”
“What about this craft? What the hell are we standing in, anyway? It looks like la mierda…” Sipsclar paused, searching for some technical term, and finding none, continued, “like a big blob!”
“Well, sir, I think maybe… it seems the spacecraft itself is… the whatever. The being. Tawre. I don’t know.” A pause of general confusion hung heavily.
“You–you mean we’re INSIDE it? We’re in its GUTS?”
“Well, yeah–yes, sir. But I’m sure you aren’t in any danger.”
“M’Nfeco! ¡Saloperia! We damn well better NOT be in any danger. We’re in the goddamn belly of the beast, and I don’t care to be a goddamned tapa!”
Sipsclar gulped. His hand strayed instinctively to his gun, and so did those of the rest of the contact team. But M’Nfeco reassured them.
“Tawre is not going to do anything bad! It’s very benevolent. But it is extremely curious. It keeps trying to ask me if it can… can merge with you, somehow. I just can’t seem to understand what it wants.”
“MERGE? As in DIGEST US?”
M’Nfeco insisted that there were no such intentions coming from the Tawre. But the unlit amorphous brown tunnel twisting into blackness began to look like a giant intestine, and the contact party lost all desire to proceed. Within moments, they were back at the elevator.
On the bridge once again, they continued trying–without much success–to communicate with Tawre. M’Nfeco could detect only frustration from the alien. The CR was beginning to complain of a headache: the difference in thought patterns appeared to be too large a gap to bridge. The crew of HR-ICPMS seemed to be stuck with no means of learning anything from the creature. It had wanted to encounter them… how? What could be salvaged from this futile contact?
The ship’s external scanners had shown that the creature was a solid mass of proteins, with no recognizable structure or organs. There seemed to be nothing else to learn. But Sipsclar did have one last recourse. His patrol ship had been outfitted with a containment lab and assigned a BioRecherche-KontaminischeRichter. This was a relative luxury for a patrolship, for only a United Fleet officer with the rank of BRKR was allowed to physically expose himself and a crew to new biomatter. This had to be done in the complete containment of a BRKR lab to eliminate risk to the crew.
Sipsclar ordered the BRKR officer down into the Tawre with a mobile analyzer. The CR tried his best to politely request a sample, and the Tawre seemed to understand because an appendage of it began to protrude out of the wall and into the analyzer.
Nicuzn Gageasse, BRKR Officer on board HR-ICPMS, began a series of non-invasive tests. M’Nfeco had gone back with him to make sure everything went smoothly, and Sipsclar watched from the bridge. After almost an hour of measurements, The BRKR returned to the bridge to show his results to Sipsclar, Mnfeco, Cnofne, and Chief Scientist Bahf.
The BRKR began. “I’m not going to be able to tell you how, but I can tell you what. This sample I examined is pure proteins, as we knew from the ship’s scanners. What we didn’t realize earlier is… there’s no DNA in this sample!”
Sipsclar blinked, uncomprehending. “What do you mean, no DNA?”
The BRKR laughed the quiet little manic laugh of a scientist whose fundamental laws had just been shattered, and continued, “Well, in fact, I’m not sure what it means. But I think it means that the Tawre doesn’t have a fixed DNA, the way we do. I don’t think it even uses DNA for the same things we do. For one thing, it’s capable of replicating entire cells it comes into contact with, down to the DNA level. I’ve observed it replicate eight different kinds of fungi and bacteria while I was scanning it. Watch!” He showed them his video data of Tawre forming into cells.
CS Bahf gasped in amazement. “That’s impossible! Nothing can copy entire organisms like that!” he muttered.
“This is what’s really unbelieveable,” the BRKR narrated as they watched a replay, closer up, of a solid chain of Tawre proteins turning, molecule by molecule, into a fungal DNA. “In fact, M’Nfeco thinks this is a hint into how it communicates.”
M’Nfeco looked up from the video at his commanders. “Well, of course, I can’t confirm something this technical with the Tawre. But for what it’s worth, that’s how it works with us CRs. I mean, our telepathic communications are done at the sub-DNA level–in information space.”
Sipsclar and Cnofne stared at the video display, amazed. As soon as the replicated fungus DNA was complete, the Tawre proteins immediately formed into an entire fungal cell, then a spore, which blossomed, reproduced, and died. Then the proteins re-integrated into the rest of the Tawre.
“There is no reason to think it can’t clone a humanoid.” CS Bahf observed.
“It might be a way for us to communicate with it,” Sipsclar mused.
The BRKR broke in, alarmed. “Are you going to suggest that we let it clone one of US?! There could be serious risks in allowing that,” he said, severely. “It may provide the thing with some very compromising data about humans. We still don’t know what Tawre’s intentions are.”
“That is, if we do not choose to believe the CR’s assurances,” Sipsclar said dryly. “However, we have no reason to disbelieve that information.”
M’Nfeco looked at Sipsclar, alarmed. Sipsclar said, “What is it, M’Nfeco? Why does that remark trouble you?”
“Well, sir… I hesitate to point this out, but… this communication… well, it isn’t like chatting with other humans. I really have no way to tell if Tawre is lying.”
Cnofne mirrored M’Nfeco’s alarmed look. As the implications sunk in, all eyes turned to Sipsclar, waiting to see what he would decide. His dark and inscrutable features betrayed no outward signs as he contemplated various scenarios. When at last he spoke, it was with a convincing authority.
“Well, men, our orders are to gather all information we can pertaining to our encounter here. It’s obvious we have not gathered much information on this Tawre yet. It seems to me that if we were to allow it to replicate our DNA, to clone one of us, then we might be more able communicate with it, to obtain more data on its origin and its nature.”
Cnofne looked horrified. “But what if it uses that information against us! What if we betray the entire human civilization by giving it our DNA!”
Sipsclar did not look at him as he replied. “I think if Tawre’s intentions were hostile, it would be able to do with us as it pleased. Our little patrol ship is no match for that mass of proteins in an aggressive state. And besides, we’re still transmitting the information back to base as we collect it, so our fleet will be alerted if it becomes aggressive.”
Cnofne was unappeased. “What about the wormhole? If it learns about that, it might get to the United Colonies even before our transmissions do!”
Sipsclar’s brow furrowed in irritation. There didn’t seem to be any way a blob of proteins could manipulate the machinery operating the wormhole, but they really had no way of knowing what the Tawre was capable of. Or whether there were other Tawres waiting for this one to come back, possibly to plan some invasion.
“Well, I guess the bottom line is that if the Tawre were hostile, we wouldn’t even be debating this point. I want the CR to contact HQ and propose this course of action.”
Cnofne seemed satisfied. “Yes, I suppose humans will probably better off finding out about it here and now, instead of back home within the boundaries of the United Colonies.”
This proved to be exactly the sentiments of the United Fleet headquarters.
Within ten minutes, Sipsclar and M’Nfeco were back down to the interior of the Tawre. M’Nfeco pressed the glove-release button on his right arm, exposing one bare hand. His dark brown skin looked, oddly, the same color as the Tawre. M’Nfeco reached over and touched the side of the tunnel with his index finger. Sipsclar was reminded of the mythological Michaelangelo fresco in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The wall quivered uncertainly.
“It’s all right. It’s all right!” M’Nfeco muttered audibly in response to a bashful questioning he sensed.
And then, even as they watched, the wall of the tunnel appeared to give birth to a clone of M’Nfeco, which instantly grew and aged until it stopped somewhere between twenty and twenty-five years old. But not just a clone of M’Nfeco… it was a perfected M’Nfeco. At the height of his youth, with smooth unblemished skin and the muscles of an African deity. And, of course, completely naked. He towered in front of them majestically, blinking in the light, making inarticulate vocal noises.
Sipsclar glanced over coolly at the new being. “That’s quite a build you had in your youth, M’Nfeco.” The rest of the crew, watching from the ship’s viewers, giggled. M’Nfeco giggled as well. “Well, Sir, uh… I don’t think I ever looked like THAT.”
The Tawre M’Nfeco’s hands began to explore his own body, and arrested electrically on his groin. Sipsclar was mortified. “¡Hé, là!” he shouted. “Knock that off! Make him stop, M’Nfeco.”
M’Nfeco stifled a giggle. Then, to their amazement the Tawre M’Nfeco repeated Sipsclar. ” ay la nok zat off make im stop minfayko i will not tolurate zis disrespek.”
No one expected the M’Nfeco doppleganger to learn speech so quickly. Sipsclar and M’Nfeco just stared, agape.
“no tolurate zis… not tolerate THIS.” The Tawre M’Nfeco’s tongue was obviously relishing his speech abilities. His hands were still relishing other abilities of a more physical nature. M’Nfeco and Sipsclar continued to stare, completely at loss for words. To make matters worse, the Tawre M’Nfeco was now fully aroused.
M’Nfeco finally snapped out of his astonishment and asked the Tawre M’Nfeco to desist its self-stimuation. It was able to tap into M’Nfeco’s own language abilities, learning to speak even as they stood there.
“oh i sawree not mean to ufend.” He smiled the instinctual grin of a pack mammal backing down in face of its leader’s authority, but then his hands strayed instinctively back to his organ. Sipsclar’s face clearly showed his displeasure. M’Nfeco was so afraid of bursting out laughing that he was fairly paralyzed.
The Tawre M’Nfeco looked up, completely unselfconsciously. “oh, this bothers but organ is making much demand on my awareness… no, i mean on my ssssentral nervoussss system. Central nervous system.” He repeated himself with obvious satisfaction. “this is curious to me because you see even though I now have body information yess yesss very nice i do not understand mind information… Hardware, no software.”
Sipsclar calmed down. “Well, I suppose we could continue, but we will require you to cover yourself. We will not continue with you indulging in such… behavior.”
The Tawre M’Nfeco looked puzzled. “Well, now, see, here, that bes–that is what I talk. About. Here is aspects of human behavior that must has much significance to you. And something here that I crave to know more. About. Why I cannot have this sex. And with your crew would be help.”
Sipsclar frowned, striving to maintain as much diplomacy as he could muster in light of the request. “Sex with the crew is quite out of the question.”
The Tawre M’Nfeco was adamant. “Yes-yes! You not understanding, this is exactly what I need is to understand human behaviors. And say, this sexy-sex cootchie-cootchie is very nice isn’t it?”
Captain Sipsclar wondered how much of the Tawre M’Nfeco’s request was coming from his quest for scientific learning and how much of it was the result of being trapped in a horny twenty-two year old male body. Then Cnofne blurted, “Well, why don’t you turn into a WOMAN! Then we’d be happy to fill you in. Hell, the whole crew would teach you about sex!”
The Tawre M’Nfeco smiled again. “Well, I would be too happy. Where can I find woman DNA? We become many woman, make many sex. Sex for everybody!”
At those words, pandemonium burst out on the ship.
Sipsclar slapped his forehead—he should have seen this coming: after over a year in space, any crew would go berserk when given this kind of offer. Even though this highly disciplined crew spent 99% of the time in cryogenic Suspended Animation, they were not immune to biological urges.
Their situation was aggravated by the unimaginatively bureaucratic minds of the United Fleet administration, who decreed that there must be no distractions such as sex for on board. Patrol ships were all staffed with sexually incompatible people, and in the case of HR-ICPMS, this meant male heterosexuals. Further, since SA slows down time but does not stop it, the Commander knew that now that the possibility of sex had been raised, his crew was going to ache until something happened. Sipsclar prayed it wouldn’t degenerate to mutiny… or worse.
But how could the reluctantly chaste crew find any sample of a woman’s DNA to give to the Tawre? They sprang into action, making comically frantic attempts, Cnofne was digging through data files, Casctiv was looking for a memento in his luggage of some girl back home. M’Nfeco was projecting images to the Tawre M’Nfeco showing the physiological differences between man and woman, but since the Tawre replicated not by description but by contact with the DNA, this seemed to be a doomed effort.
The BRKR was shouting over M’Nfeco’s shoulder to the Tawre M’Nfeco that if he would just take his XY chromosomes and just convert one of them to an XX chromosome, he would have the DNA for a woman. But this also seemed to be beyond the abilities of the Tawre M’Nfeco to grasp.
Several officers stormed the ship’s lab computer and tried to find a file on human DNA. The problem was, even if they found anything, none of them knew how they could relay the electronic data into the organic Tawre.
Captain Namgal Sipsclar looked on impotently from the bridge viewscreen as his crew grew more frenzied. He knew that prolonged journeys through space were dangerous for this reason. He envied the officers and crew of the commercial spaceships who were not segregated by gender or sexual orientation, who never got this desperate.
Sipsclar was preparing to gas his crew into unconsciousness, and was hoping he wouldn’t be impeded in the endeavor by the Tawre, when CS Bahf appeared from the doors of the elevator pod with a gigantic grin on his face. He turned to look back at the elevator camera.
“Good news, Captain! I’ve found an actual specimen of female DNA!” Silence filled the tunnel and ship as everyone stopped talking and strove to hear the CS speak. “It’s from the exterior of the uniform belonging to SB Teixe!”
The crew in the tunnel burst into applause. Shouts and questions were all hurled simultaneously.
“Silence!” Sipsclar shouted with all the authority he could muster. “We will have order, or I’ll give the damn thing my wool beret and see to it you don’t get anything but sheep!” That broke everyone up, and their laughter calmed them down a bit
“Mr. Bahf… how did you happen to come upon a female tissue sample on a ship entirely populated by males?”
CS Bahf grinned widely. “Well, sir, I happened to notice that the Senior Boatswain was in a rather…uh… prolonged embrace with his girlfriend, just as he was boarding. I knew where to look, I guess.”
A lusty cheer went up from the crew. Teixe’s beautiful girlfriend, Osir P. Taugh, TL, their Technical Liaison at HQ, was the object of much admiration. Captain Sipsclar waited for the cheers to die down before issuing his next command. “Well, Mr. Bahf… proceed!” The crew cheered even louder.
As the 34 crewmembers discreetly slipped off, each with his own private Tawre Osir, Sipsclar toyed with the idea of just returning to the ship and waiting their mad orgy out. After all, he was a fifty-two year old man, firmly in control of his libido. You don’t get to be a Captain in the United Fleet for indulging in hedonist fantasies.
Though, even if one of the incredibly seductive Tawre Osirs didn’t come seek him out, Sipsclar was already leaning toward the necessity being “one of the guys” on this one. And, at first, as Sipsclar sat and talked to the Tawre Osir, he had feared that having sex with her would be in some odd way just a meaningless bodily function, like with a sex droid. But in fact the woman sitting across from him was a real person. She was courteous, sensitive to his feelings, and made it quite clear that she wanted him very badly.
The last coherent thought Sipsclar had was that each Tawre Osir, even though only a temporary formation of cloned human DNA, and maybe precisely because of her temporary human existence, was desperate to live as completely as possible.
Two months later, the space vessel HR-ICPMS, emptied of its crew, its biological food stores, its sewage recycling system, and every last strand of biological tissue on board, was boarded and brought home by another vessel of the terrestrial fleet. The on-board cameras, all still functional, had dutifully recorded the final days of the crew and their encounter with the Tawre. There in plain sight was the fact of all of the crew members cavorting with the shipload of naked Osirs, and then, to all appearances, willingly merging into one biological mass with each human portion of that creature—they seemed to be willingly—joyfully, even—abandoning their ship, their duty, their very lives. Some enterprising member of the fleet made a bootleg copy from the records, which became the most popular documentary of the decade.
And, though the Tawre itself was never seen again, it nevertheless inspired billions of humans across the galaxy to expire into the same, immortal, oblivion.
Bio: I am a physicist and writer living in San Jose, CA. My work has appeared in Chicago Literati, 300 Days of Sun, the Literary Hatchet, the Abstract Jam, and Here Comes Everyone.