A Crystalline Herbal and Bestiary:
A Journey To An Alien World
Part VI - The Alien Research Facility (continued)
by Richard L. Howey, Wyoming, USA
Visit the Micscape Library to read other parts in the series.
I met Zettel early the next morning and he asked me if I was ready to proceed.
“By all means,” I replied. “This is all most intriguing.”
“Well then, I’ll let you have a session with our Scomin. If you have any bad habits you’d like to be rid of, now’s the time. Scomins are legendary for their hypnotic abilities, but you won’t get to see much if it, for it presses its head against that panel with its eye in the center and, as you’ll soon see, it is a quite remarkable eye. It has a muzzle rather like that of your Earth horse. It seems quite gentle, but we have had to severely limit access to it. We had too many instances of personnel playing tricks on one another by instructing the Scomin to give post-hypnotic suggestions to fellow co-workers. Most of these suggestions were harmless and silly, but a few were quite vicious. It seems that our Scomin is highly susceptible to suggestion itself or perhaps it is merely bored and lonely. In any case, we had to institute a hierarchy of passwords for gaining entrance to this room. The panel is open all the time and once the Scomin hears the opening of the door, its head will be pressed against the panel, ready to cure you of your corrupt ways.”
When the door opened and I walked over to the panel and looked in, this is what I saw.
The eye was astonishing. It its center was a small geometric solid which slowly rotated. The effect was indeed mesmerizing and I couldn’t tear myself away from this enchanting vision. I began to think about Zettel’s challenge and considered which bad habits I might take this opportunity to ‘cure’. Most of the things I though of were so trivial that I felt it was silly to waste such an occasion on them. If I couldn’t deal with them on my own, then I deserved the consequences. Feeling a bit wicked, I turned to Zettel and said, “ I really can’t think of any improvements I need to make. I’m already nearly perfect.”
Zettel snorted. “What about your cigarette smoking and your indulgence in alcohol?” Then he actually smirked and added, “I must admit that your unfiltered American cigarettes and your single malt Scotch whiskeys are really first class. We do get some smuggled into us from time to time and I have my name on the reserve list. I guess now is not the time to try to reform you.”
I was still absorbed in the rotation of what I can only describe as the “pupil” of this unbelievable eye and Zettel had to call to me three times before I heard him.
“I think we should move on before you become hopelessly transfixed.”
In the next chamber, I was introduced to a Lachnal. Zettel described it briefly.
“It has at least four different kinds of eyes which I’ll point out to you in a bit and you can label them on your image for the benefit of your colleagues. It grows rather slowly and is constantly adding new eyes.
Zettel then told me about what they had learned thus far about the four types of eyes and pointed out how intricately interconnected they all were with sophisticated nerve networks. Here is the image with some labels.
Number 1 [feather with black center] is sensitive to that part of the spectrum that our eyes respond to.
Number 2 [bright colors] detects ultraviolet radiation.
Number 3 [center left] is an infrared sensor.
Number 4 [bottom right] has been difficult for them to pinpoint as it seems to be responsive to an enormously wide spectrum and may function as a sort of visual “macronucleus” for all the other eyes.
Number 5 indicates some of the branching nerve fibers.
“If this creature is deprived of light, it simply stops growing. So, we try to provide it with as large a range of energy types as possible to stimulate its growth. Unfortunately, another being we have been unsuccessful in communicating with.”
Our next stop was a laboratory which contained a Mosol. It appeared to be a disembodied eye, but Zettel assured me that it was not.
“Around the sphere is an utterly bizarre substance which at some times seems to have a distinct form, at other times not. We have inserted probes into the chamber repeatedly trying to determine the shape of the organism, but whenever a probe makes contact, it is absorbed and lost. The only thing that remains constant is the sphere.”
“The pattern of the network which you have captured in your photograph is constantly changing. We suspect that these patterns are the basis of a language and that the Mosol is trying to communicate with us. We have our best people working on this problem.”
The post-prandial tour had been thus far most informative and relaxing, but now Zettel introduced an element of tension again.
“The next creature we are going to encounter is extremely unnerving, again, in large part because not only is it intelligent and highly perceptive, it is also articulate in a strange way.
We went down a long corridor along which we had to pause five times for Zettel to open security gates and relock them after we passed through. The creature we were going to see, Zettel told me was nicknamed Nocdos Pereg Sodna or the Nuclear Angel of Death.
“For short, we simply call it Sodna. It is almost impossible to get anyone to do research on it. The room from which we will view it is still seven rooms distant from the actual creature. Each of these function as a kind of moat with corridors filled with water and the walls of each room consist of 10 feet of solid lead. If you were out in the open and the Sodna decided to activate itself, you would die immediately as would every other living being within a radius of 20 miles. However, it does go dormant and was in such a state when it was found in a large crate in one of the warehouses down by the harbor. Fortunately, we were notified immediately and were able to move it here. We had heard rumors about the existence of such a being and had collected enough evidence to justify building the containment facility and, thank heavens, we did. But here is the monitor, you must have a look for yourself.
Why it was given the description of “angel” was immediately evident from the wide sweep of the wings. The head was disconcertingly small in relation to the body and even more unnerving were the four “dead” eyes.
“Ah, Dr. Zettel, I see you have brought me a sacrificial offering.” The voice sounded like a coarse wood rasp being drawn over a chalkboard.
Zettel activated the control to turn off the microphone. “That creature really does need a voice transplant,” he said in an effort to lighten the mood. The Sodna is so dangerous when it activates itself, not only because of its intense radioactivity–the limits of which we do not yet know–but also because it has mastered modifying and controlling certain forms of energy which we cannot control. As you know, neutrinos pass through your planet as though it were transparent. The Sodna has learned how to modulate the energy and combine it with radioactive beams. We suspect that it could penetrate our defense walls if it wanted. That’s the primary reason that almost no one wants to do research here. However, we also suspect that water is a deterrent. There seems to be some property which it has that is a very real inhibitor. In addition to the “moats” we have installed an enormous tank of water directly above the Sodna’s chamber which can be released virtually instantaneously. It knows this and we think that is the reason that it has not disturbed any of the many sensors or other apparatus which we installed before it arrived. When it did, we set up energy fields around all of our equipment and it is has not attempted to break through them. This is, however, only a modest comfort, for not only is it immensely powerful, but it is extremely clever and malicious. From this we have concluded that what we must guard against is any attempts it might make to drain the water out and free itself.”
Zettel turned the microphone back on again.
“Ah, gentlemen, you have decided to rejoin me. Professor, I have read your most recent book on skeletal structure in invertebrates. It is, scientifically speaking almost as pathetic as Dr. Zettel’s numerous writings in the area of biophysics. It is such amazing hubris that you creatures can pretend to understand even basic natural phenomena. It’s a pity that you weren’t all aborted, but then, in a certain sense, it’s my mission to try to retroactively abort you now. It is astonishing to me that either of you ever managed to crawl up out of the slime.”
Zettel lost his temper and said, ‘Would you like a glass of water to cool off that foul tongue of yours?”
There was an ear-splitting shriek from the Sodna which, I am utterly convinced, was an incomprehensible mixture of laughter and utter terror.
“My dear Zettel,” it said. “You are a bully and one day I will destroy you and all of this.”
Zettel had had enough (and I certainly had had more than enough) and he closed the panel and we left in some haste.
“You can see why no one wants to do research here,” he commented angrily. “Let’s go see if we can’t find some more congenial eyes to contemplate. In fact, I think we can find an antidote to all of the venom with a visit to a Thylene. He is a quite silly creature and has a bit of resemblance certain paintings by your artist Picasso. The Thylene is obsessed with getting its ego boosted and thinks it can do so by being ‘entertaining”. There is no question in my mind that it has the largest collection of mediocre to bad jokes in this galaxy and several neighboring ones. Frankly, I think he is a bit retarded.”
We left the ultra-secure compound and headed off for another building. I asked, “But why is he being kept in the Alien Research Facility?”
“Well, it’s a tad embarrassing. Like some of your primates, he has a tendency to throw his feces at anyone he encounters. Apparently, on his planet, it has something to do with mating. So, for social and aesthetic reasons, as well as for Research purposes, we keep him here. As you might imagine, he has an enormous repertoire of scatological jokes.”
Our entrance to this chamber was much easier and more relaxed. The only restriction was the plexiglass wall between us and the compound in which the Thylene lived. As soon as we walked in, he said, “Hey, Doc. Have you heard the one about the nun and the parrot?”
“Yes, yes, Drolt. Three or four times.”
“I wondered if the name the workers here had bestowed on him was a Lewis Carroll portmanteau word–“droll” and “dolt”.
“Hey, Doc, how about your friend there? He looks like he enjoys good jokes.”
“I’m sure he does,” Zettel replied. “Do you know any?”
“Oh, now Doc. Are you trying to hurt my feelings? That’s not a very nice thing to say.”
“Sorry,” said Zettel and then in an aside to me, “I’m afraid we’re in for it. He really is irrepressible but, at least, he’s a pleasant contrast from the Sodna.”
Just the mention of that creature made me shudder.
Drolt now turned to me and asked, “Hey mister, have you heard the one about the duck that wanders into the bar?”
“No, I don’t think I have. Would you tell it to us?”
Drolt looked over at Zettel and said, “Now there’s a gentleman, quite polite, unlike some I could mention.
A duck wanders into a bar and when the bartender looks over the counter at him, the duck says ‘Got any duck food?’
The bartender says, ‘No, I don’t have any duck food.’ So the duck leaves.
The next day the duck goes back to the same bar and goes up to the bartender and asks, ‘Got any duck food?’ and the bartender replies, ‘I told you yesterday; we don’t have any duck food.’ So, again the duck leaves.
The third day the duck goes into the bar and asks the bartender once more, ‘You got any duck food?’
Now the bartender is getting annoyed and he shouts at the duck. ‘I’ve already told you we don’t have any duck food. If you come back here and ask again, I’ll nail your feet to the floor.’ The duck leaves.
The next day, in comes the duck again. When the bartender sees him, he leans over the bar in a threatening manner. The duck looks at him and asks, ‘You got any nails?’
The bartender says, ‘No’ and the duck says, ‘You got any duck food?’”
I laughed heartily as I had found his story amusing. He look over at Zettel and smiled superciliously.
“Oh, no,” said Zettel. “You have encouraged him and he can go on for days.”
At that point, a blood-chilling alarm went off and Zettel said, “Follow me quickly!”
We went to an emergency underground shelter and by the time we had descended to the lower depths, the alarm had stopped. Zettel went briefly into his trance-like state and then said, “You may relax. It’s nothing dangerous. A rare Cucet escaped. It is an exotic and endangered bird which we have been trying to breed here on Bromonia. A technician failed to secure a lock, but the Cucet has been recaptured.”
Zettel sensed my unease. “The technician will be sent to Janusc for rest and evaluation. If he or she doesn’t pass the evaluation, then there will be a reassignment. While we’re here in the A.R.F., there are a couple of other creatures which you should see. Tomorrow, we’ll go to the Bromonian Microscopy Institutes, but for now we’ll concentrate on aliens. I should mention in case you think you’re getting a comprehensive tour, we have 12,746 alien species here.”
The next creature we encountered, a Crasthym, we observed in a darkened room. It was bioluminescent with lovely shades of red and purple surrounding specialized tube-like organs that emitted white light.
Its many appendages and its flexible body rather reminded me of some sort of exotic centipede. I learned from Zettel that the small points that were flashing were doing so at very precise wavelengths and intervals. Bromonian scientists and linguists were working to construct the Crasthym language.
The next compound we visited was oddly built and when I looked at the monitor as it scanned the area, it was clear that it was a quarry.
“We cannot have any viewing panels here. The Romsin would smash them. It feeds primarily on rock, but seems to have developed an appetite for plexiglass as well. We have mounted cameras that continually scan the compound and record data, but they are too high for the Romsin to reach. In addition to having such a bizarre metabolism, it seems to need to feed almost constantly. Of course, it uses up enormous amounts of energy in the process of pulverizing the rock for food.”
Zettel continued, “As you can see, its entire body is designed to deliver powerful blows to anything below it. It pivots from its broad rear point. There are times when it seems angry and delivers such forceful blows that the foundation of the compound shakes. Fortunately, everything here is build to withstand earthquakes. We think that it is a quite primitive being in terms of intelligence, but we have on a few occasions captured it on our computer cameras when it is tapping away on a rock quite gently as though it were sending some kind of message in a simple code. Quite interesting. Ah, yes, do you have the energy to visit yet one more alien? I think you will find it quite worthwhile.”
“Yes, of course. This is such a rare opportunity.”
“Zettel gazed at me quietly for a moment and then said, “Let us hope that it is merely the first of many opportunities.”
I was beginning to quite like the Consul as I got to know him better. The last creature we encountered for the day, a Meltra, was fascinatingly repellent. It masqueraded as a plant. Its ‘head’ extended out from a sizeable sphere. At the top of this head was a series of tentacles, then the eye, below that the mouth with a long lower jaw, and below that a colorful flat plate that Zettel told me exuded a smelly, waxy substance that attracted prey. When prey ventured onto the disk, they became stuck. One of the tentacles would extend, reach down, seize it, and then deposit it in the grotesque mouth which was by then wide open.
This truly was a repugnant creature and reminded me of a cross between a large squid and Jabba the Hut. Zettel did, however, convey another interesting fact about this organism. When feeding was not good, the structures that we were observing would flatten out on the surface of the sphere and it would go rolling off in search of better feeding grounds.
The day had been overwhelming with the strange and sometimes tense encounters with all of these creatures and I was exhausted. I returned to my rooms and ate and slept to prepare for the microscopic organisms which we would be observing tomorrow.
All comments to the author Richard Howey are welcomed.
Editor's note: Visit Richard Howey's new website at http://rhowey.googlepages.com/home where he plans to share aspects of his wide interests.
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