Friday, December 11, 2015

Short Story: When the Tardigrades Came...

They said they came in peace. You know, the usual beginning to a bad science fiction movie or something. In films and television shows the aliens always either looked exactly like us or like people with some Hollywood make-up on.

Not so in real life. Not even close.

The best description was one that floated to the top immediately after they became public. These aliens looked exactly like five-foot-tall tardigrades. Yes, those things. Eight limbs, tiny eyes, one big mouth or whatever in the center of their faces. Exactly like the microscopic tardigrades, except huge. Although, I will admit their babies (early molters) are kind of cute, in a way.

They came to Earth and immediately adopted our culture and ways of life. I don't live in major city, so besides online, the first time I saw one in person was at the Supermarket. The female (I assume because it was wearing a summer dress) was shopping and buying normal items like bread and milk, a baby was in the baby seat demanding candy.

It was a bit surreal. Within a couple of years there were several dozen of their families living in my town, clustered between the river and the flour mill. Some of them acquired jobs in town while most were on government assistance programs.

Still, they had adopted our customs a little too well, a little too quickly. I found it unnerving and it wasn't xenophobia or anything. I brought this up when my best friend Kyle came over for a beer in the backyard.

“There is just something about them that is bugging me, and I can't figure out what it is.” I told him.

He nodded. Kyle was a bit strange himself, wearing his hat and sunglasses on the back porch even though night had fallen. “I know, but don't let anyone catch you saying 'bug' about them in public.”

I sighed and shook my head. “You know what I mean. Isn't it a bit too perfect? The way they came here and integrated into our culture?

Kyle set the beer down on the little table between us. “I know what you mean. It's almost like they're mocking us or something. I swear I saw an online video of one of them twerking, not pretty.”

Kyle is a bit weird, did I mention?

Recently there had been accusations that almost half the newcomer aliens were welfare bums, and that this was not the part of the culture that should have been adopted. Those who said these things were shouted down and berated by television anchors, some of them lost their jobs and ended up on government watch lists for expressing their opinions.

The only thing that seemed different about them, besides their appearance, was that they all belonged to the local Order. This was a strange and extremely secretive place where no human was ever allowed to enter. Some believed it had something to do with reproduction but others had strange theories.

They came here all dessicated and frozen aboard the Tun-ship claiming to have escaped the destruction of their home world by tyrants armed with nukes. Some of them worked as explorers because they could dive and walk at the bottom of the ocean, the water pressure did not bother them.

Unlike the microscopic creatures they resembled these large ones did eat and could not survive ten years without it, unless they were in their “Tun State”. In their Tun-state they could survive for a decade like being in suspended animation.

Over the months their strange and defensive attitude about the Order locations gnawed at me. At first I had assumed their females didn't carry their babies internally and that this was what the Order buildings were for. Most people had assumed this.

One night, me and Kyle dressed in black. We had decided to sneak into the Order building and find out what goes on there. We found that the basement was divided into several chambers. One of these was a large tank of water, we assumed this was how and where they birthed their tardigrade babies. Not that we really had a clue.

The next was some kind of storage room. Crate after crate of unflavored gelatin, at least that was what the boxes said. Since microscopic tardigrades could survive for years without eating, we always wondered about the large ones that live among us. The big ones seemed to eat daily, officially we are told that they cannot survive long without eating unless they go into their Tun-state.

The last chamber wasn't empty. We walked in on something we should never have seen.

“Oh my god!” Kyle yelled. The four tardigrades standing around the table turned and looked at us. Their ugly proboscis opening and closing, swallowing the remains of one of their own kind. All of these things shopping at the supermarket and visiting restaurants were some kind of show... they were cannibals!

We were blocked from leaving by more of them and soon we were their prisoners. They locked us into a room that contained nothing but a table and some chairs. After a while one of them entered at sat on the opposite side of the table, a long-clawed guard stood by the door.

“I fear you have gotten the wrong impression about what you saw.” The male tardigrade said, “Let me clear it up for you.”

“You were eating your own kind.” Kyle said.

“Exactly.” I said. “Cannibalism.”

If a tardigrade could sigh this one did. “You do not understand. Give me a chance to explain.”

“So you can lie to us?” Kyle asked.

If we wanted to hurt you, you would have never made it to that room.” The tardigrade said, “We have no intention of harming humans.”

I crossed my arms. “Your people are mostly still welfare cases. You need us right now.”

While that is unfortunately the case, I believe my people will be contributors to society in due time, but this is beside the point.” It told us, “My peoples' DNA is made up of about 20% foreign DNA, which is a lot. Because we have the Tun-state and absorb foreign matter we are vulnerable to degradation of what makes us sentient. Our species has found that when we die, and we do die, certain organs in us can help sustain our DNA integrity.”

Me and Kyle looked at each other, feeling uncomfortable.

Look it up.” The alien said, “The tardigrades on your world are the same, they are always changing, branches of the tree come and go. While adaptable and readily changing, they can find themselves burning out like a wildfire. Sometimes a slow evolution is preferable.”

So that tardigrade...”

Died, of old age or something. The organs in question must be harvested and ingested immediately by the patients.” It told us. “We thought it was better to keep all of this a secret, but I guess that might have been a mistake.”

Me and Kyle glanced at each other again.

I answered the alien, “No, it's probably better kept secret for a good while. Let people get more acquainted and comfortable with your people being here before you throw that in their lap.”

And I want to apologize for thinking certain things.” Kyle said, “Your arrival here has given my people advanced space technology and we should appreciate that.”

I agreed, “Yes. If you guys hadn't come here, I might not be able to visit the moon next year. I've been saving up for that vacation.”

The tardigrade sounded convinced. “I am happy that this matter could be cleared up quickly, I assume you two are tired and need sleep. You may go.”

After we exited the building we ran as fast as we could. Then we settled down and stopped at a fast food place just opening for breakfast.

This is seriously weird.” Kyle said.

Should we believe them?” I asked, “Still seems too easy. They wouldn't come right out and tell us a secret they've been hiding all this time like that.”

The truth must be much worse.” He answered.

The nations of the world were busy building many copies of the Tun-ship. The tardigrades were basically running the space program these days. There were even tardigrade advisors to the President.

Kyle had that funny look in his eyes that told me a freaky conspiracy theory was being born, “You don't think they plan to pack humans on those ships and deliver us to their homeworld as food, do you?”

You have seen too many movies.” I told him. “They would need a lot more ships and, of course, a cookbook.”

He laughed.

I laughed.

We couldn't eat the breakfast sitting in front of us.



My novel NEW ARRIVALS is only 99 cents at Amazon.

War causes refugees to flee to the colony of Montoya, where they were welcomed as settlers, things go bad. The new arrivals are armed and they want to take over. Brad Black and his friends must join the resistance to fight for their colony.

203-Kindle pages

1 comment:

  1. Just posted a link to your story in the telegraph comments on FB on their story