Chuck Wendig is back, and asking for an Apocalypse story. Well I reckon my last one in 2016 counts for that. Here’s a 1000-word something based on an incident that amused me. I walked towards a robin, which flew around the side of the shed. As I passed the shed, I looked sideways to find a magpie there, and no robin… cue X files music.
The Magpie Robin Encounter
Pitakhu balanced on the fence, observing the aliens in front of him. The natives of this planet engaged in continuous interaction while obtaining their ingestibles. Small flying things took a portion of sustenance and returned to the tree. From their body language, he inferred discussion of hierarchies, family units, and food sources. Large flying things were either attackers or grazers. To Pitakhu, they were distinguishable by assessed bodyweight. Attackers aimed to pick off small flyers, fat grazers landed and attacked the green vegetation and spillage from the dispenser. The attention given to the food source made him wonder how it was serviced.
A large black and white flyer approached, landed, and turned to stare at him.
“Me, Pitakhu. I come in friendship.” Pitakhu made the customary signals from BASIK to accompany his words.
“Aak.” The piebald seemed satisfied with the response even if he was illiterate. He hopped closer and put his head on one side, eyeing Pitakhu with black eyes.
Pitakhu stretched, to emphasise strength and preparedness. One couldn’t be too careful on first contact, even if it was second or seventieth contact by now. His second, his ship’s seventieth. They knew everything each operative had experienced. The boffins continued to synthesise the data.
The piebald bobbed his head and stepped back. A good sign.
“Who is the Old One of this society?” Pitakhu asked, nodding at the feeding station.
There was a long drawn-out screech as the piebald flew away to the fence on the opposite side. He looked down around, then flew onto the green floor. Several smaller beings and the fat ones scattered.
“Hmm, a demonstration, eh? Useful.”
A noise at the stone wall on one side caused the natives to scatter to the bigger trees or to low bushes outside the feeding square. Pitakhu felt discretion was the better part of valour. He moved along into some dry sticks that grew alongside and through the fence. A small blue and yellow alien flew out and away to a tree.
A giant-sized alien, with flabby grey cloak and a squashed face, emerged from a hole in the wall. A slave of some type, thought Pitakhu, as he watched it clean and refill the food station.
The giant alien retreated to its cave. The small and fat ones returned, and selection of other varieties of natives arrived.
On the outside of the fence, a large beakless four-legged alien – taller than the piebald, with long manky ginger hair – prowled around, occasionally scratching or marking territory. Pitakhu tried communicating, but it looked at him disdainfully and moved on.
Time to try the mimicking techniques the hivemind had suggested. Pitakhu remodelled himself on the alien on the ground outside and emerged from cover.
The natives all took flight, save the piebald one, which had returned to the fence opposite. His glare was as intense as Pitakhu’s Old One. For a moment Pitakhu wondered whether it was indeed the Old One, come to test him – or maybe a Deputy. No, it would be a waste of resources at this stage of the operation. Judging the move to longhaired four-leg had been unwise, he remodelled himself to match the piebald, keeping his eyes a natural turquoise-shot purple, since it matched the secondary colours in the native’s plumage.
The piebald was impressed.
He flew over to join Pitakhu, sidling up to him with purring noises in seventh-level wavelengths. Pitakhu returned the croon in a similar tune. He hoped his recorder was getting all this; it might be the first evidence of alien mating rituals.
The giant emerged from the cave once more. All the natives but one scattered once more; a brown and red flyer hopped towards the giant. It stood, eyeing the edifice before it, and trilled a code. The giant produced some small edibles from a pouch on its side and presented them to the customer. The transaction was repeated a couple of times before the giant withdrew, and the brown and red native flew into the sticks near Pitakhu.
“Greetings. You must have high status to thus order your food delivery.” Pitakhu wasn’t sure he’d used the right terminology, but hoped it would do. He recorded the trill he received in response, and hoped it could be decoded before he finished this interaction. It was a fantastic opportunity for inter-species communication and he was sure he would gain status from it.
“How did you train the giant?”
The brown and red native cocked his head on one side, just as the piebald had. Pitakhu realised he was not using the number one lesson in communication: match your interlocutor. He remodelled himself to match the flyer. He started to speak in BASIK, but with the much shorter vocal chords of this smaller alien, his attempt came out as a trill. He hoped what he said was his intended question.
The flyer trilled back.
Pitakhu trilled once more, excited by the possibility of real communication resulting.
That fell flat as the alien abruptly flew off: the cave entrance opened once more. Pitakhu dithered on the fence, wondering whether to mimic the flyer’s behaviour with the service giant. Fortune favours the brave – he flew down to the giant’s feet, each of which were twice his size.
The giant made some sounds, in a deep rumble.
Pitakhu trilled, hoping he mimicked the flyer’s signal correctly. The giant stepped back, then returned to the cave.
Pitakhu remodelled himself back to a piebald. Trilling was hard work. He flew up onto the fence, and received a call from the mother ship. His planet-walk time was up for this session. He flew back to the ship, making use of the larger alien’s excellent flight capabilities, and transformed as he went inside. He was so looking forward to his debrief.
Inside the house, the giant wondered how the robin at her feet had turned into a magpie to fly away. She must be imagining things.
© J M Pett 2017
pictures from BTO Flickr group