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FIRST CONTACT: ANTARCTICA
6 August, 2009
"The humans are offloading with one of their flying machines, again." Spragg, a blue-skinned, bipedal humanoid watched the Antarctic coast through a hidden vid-cam.
"So what? It's probably another count the seals exercise. Two long we've been watching these humans, blinking our lights, hovering in clouds, leaving tracks in the snow and what does the most inquisitive race in the galaxy do? Nothing. Not a damn thing," Morgg said, waving dismissively. The humans bored a hole in the ice, erected a tent around it and disappeared inside.
"They can't resist a mystery. Think cats. Think Perry Mason. Think nourish thoughts. Human curiosity will out like a cheap novel."
"Statistics. Numbers. Guesses. Suppositions. Wasted time. You convinced the High Council we should use humans as progenitors for the ice-world project. It's you're ass on the grass." Morgg's six fingers tapped out another negative log entry.
"Line not grass."
"Smoke my horny pole or whatever they call it. There's nothing out there but volcanic rock and ice, covered with animal excrement and today, oooh, dingy-doodles, today there are humans tagging Weddell seals. Why didn't we set up in some place exciting like Fargo." Morgg harrumphed, twirled and left the control room. Dejected, Spragg sat silent. He watched as a human walked up to the vid-cam, smiled a yellowed, toothy grin on its ugly face and waved.
"I will not fail at least, not epically," Spragg mumbled as he recorded the human's retinal pattern. He activated his mobile cameras and repositioned them near the new seal hole both above and below the water.
Across the sea, a group of humans raised a tent and set up heaters inside it. They marked the date as February first, the start of the Antarctic winter. One of them stood at an ice tower making faces at his reflection.
"GANESVOORT!" Gunny Rigo, bellowed. Terns and petrels took to the air above the barren ice. Penguins scattered. He lowered his voice to loud and yelled again. "Damn you, Kyler Ganesvoort, get away from whatever that thing is. YouŐre supposed to be a scientist not a contestant on some reality TV show saying hi to your mother."
"It might be geologically significant."
"Ain't going to be nothing significant out here but my boot up your ass in a minute. Quit looking for a sign saying this way to the alien spaceship. If anything scientifically advanced is hiding out here, it's not going to advertise. I don't want this mission destroyed before it starts thanks to your goofy-assed horseshit. If you don't listen, I'll get the Professor to yell at you." Kyler ran back from the ice tower and slid around the ice at the front of the tent.
"Ooh, it's so slippery out here," Kyler smiled at Gunny Rigo's displeasure. His professor, Raul Getherde, foremost authority on human-animal hybridization appeared from inside the tent.
"He likes playing the bad boy and he's the best student I ever had. That's why he never listens. Don't think he'll listen to you now. Yell all you want. I have a better suggestion. Tell him to put his money where his mouth is and join your men. I brought his personal seal suit," Getherde said. Gunny Rigo took Kyler by the arm. His body felt sturdy enough.
"I'm not one of your men." Kyler brushed Gunny Rigo's hand from his arm.
"But you act like you're the brawn and he's the brains of the Astrobiology Department?"
"More like brawn, brain and financier. Professor G accidentally discovered how to combine human and animal genomes to create hybrids for work in hostile environments but I developed and tested these seal suits in the building and laboratory bearing my father's name. My brains and his money made this stealthy little reconnaissance team possible. We wouldn't be here on Buckle if Dad hadn't bought the Icebreaker Pippen for the research group too."
"Damn boy, are you full of yourself. Why don't you do what the Professor suggested and put your money where your mouth is and join the best of the Navy in some seal-like reconnoitering? Surely you can leave tweeting and texting for a few months and join the rest of us working slobs." Gunny Rigo asked.
"You don't have the right to criticize me on my dime."
"But I do," Professor Getherde interjected. "Captain Moonwalker and I spoke with your father on the wireless this morning and he wholeheartedly agrees with my assessment of your duties. We all want you to spend a couple weeks away from undergrad recitation sections and grading exams. We have a suit all ready and waiting for you." Kyler's mood hit the ice just like his jaw.
"You're screwing me over after all I've done for you?" Kyler's jaw jutted out of his parka. They had caught him unprepared, boxed him into a corner. The only thing Kyler could do was to act like it was his decision. His demeanor regained his regular braggadocio.
"Think of it as augmenting the reconnaissance team's personnel with your expertise, giving them a greater chance of success. After all, you've been a seal before, they haven't. You can teach them so much more on the ice. Let's go inside the tent and explain our decision to the reconnaissance team." Professor Gertherde held a fist out as a gesture. Kyler tapped the Professor's fist ever so lightly. Gunny Rigo pulled Kyler into the tent where five beefy sailors stood in various stages of nakedness trying to become seals. They cursed about the cold and jacked up the heaters beyond high.
"Rich boy's going to join you guys on the ice." Gunny Rigo announced to another round of half-hearted grunts of approval. Kyler went to a dressing station, opened his parka and grinned his trademark "I can get anything I want with charm" grin.
"I'm thrilled to join these fine sailors." No one looked up or changed expression. "What? No glad to have you or thanks for helping?" Kyler asked, stripping off his parka.
"You ain't done nothing but a be rich kid, boy." Professor Getherde added. Kyler threw a boot his way.
"You want to join us kid? You better have brass balls under that union suit." Vartan Gargarian, an orphan from Estonia adopted by American parents, spoke for the group. He pushed a hand into flipper-like gloves and wiggling his fingers into the webbing. Kyler opened his long johns and waved his oversized testicles and manhood at Vartan.
"This man enough for you?"
"I didn't mean that set of bull nuts you got hanging between your legs. I meant more smarts than just 'Daddy bought it for me' and that," Vartan tried to use his flipper covered hands. The stubby fingers didn't flex. Naked and shivering Kyler helped him. Vartan's body resembled slick, hairless seal. Cleatus Thoephilus, who proudly traced his heritage back to Thomas Jefferson's time, grimaced as the inner suit forced his ankles together and his pulled his feet out to either side. He bent his knees up near his stomach, rolled on his back and squirmed.
"My Daddy didn't buy ME nothing. We worked our asses off to get here. Your Daddy bought you a research lab. You gotta earn our way into this group. We don't take cash," Cleatus struggled to get the words out as much as he struggled to get the suit closed. Again, Kyler helped him.
"Why's these suits got inner and outer pieces? It's bad enough that these suits trick our arms and legs into looking like seal fins and flippers, worse yet our teeth grow razor sharp teeth to eat raw fish and chew up ice, but we got to flop around like fools just to get furry?" Another volunteer, James Gardner asked. He hailed from Southern Ohio and seemed average. He had an exceptional understanding of astronomy and high-energy physics. Even with the four heaters blasting in the tent, Kyler felt the Antarctic cold from outside like a knife on his bare body.
"The inner suits creates the artificial muscles so we can move like seals. The outer suit is weatherproofing." Kyler positioned his seal suit on the floor. Next to him, Vartan struggled with his shortened legs and wide, flipper-like feet. Gunny Rigo rolled him into the outer suit.
Kyler turned his feet out to each side and let his knees point outward. He slipped inside his suit and wiggled it over his shoulders. His felt his human body twist and conform to the suit, the familiar sensation of his legs shortening and his feet becoming wide. He bent up and leaned back on his rear flippers while Professor Getherde held up his gloves. Kyler's arms and hands disappeared and changed into flippers to guide his swimming.
One by one, Professor Getherde and Gunny Rigo rolled and shoved the slick-skinned seals into furry outer suits. They left the hoods open so the sailor's human faces showed. Kyler explained how their new bodies moved across the ice. They learned how to walk, stand and maneuver as the suits adjusted their internal skeleton and musculature. Their bodies gained massive new muscles and flexibility in the seal suits.
"What the longest you ever spent in one of these suits?" Brogan Waggoner, the electronics expert and fourth man on the surveillance team, bounced on his new and very round stomach with his flippers held out.
"I tested the first prototype in Norway. It was clumsy. Two Norwegian environmentalists used the second prototype for five days. One of them was nearly clubbed to death by a poacher. After that, I rebuilt the suit and spent a month living with other seals at the seal exhibit in Bristol, England. No one even guessed I wasn't a real seal." Kyler got glances of respect from the half-transformed sailors.
"He was the start seal at the exhibit."
"You spent a month as a caged animal in a zoo? I'd rather be clubbed to death." James laughed, flexing his new tail and resting on his front flippers. The four sailors examined each other's new, furry bodies -- all dirty white fur with gray spots.
"Kyler like performing for the kiddies. He got fat and sassy scarfing down all the sardines they fed him," Professor Getherde joked. The sailors smirked and laughed. Kyler sputtered, his face red.
"They only let handicapped kids pet the seals and I didn't get fat. I gained twenty pounds of muscle. We'll all bulk up. We're smaller than most Weddell Seals. We'll all grow."
"Muscles are good. Bulk is good." James said as he slipped the hood over his head and let the First Mate close it over his face. He tried to talk but only barks came out of his seal-like mouth. Kyler watched as Gunny Rigo sealed Vartan and Brogan into their outer suits.
"You know, I hate sardines," Cleatus laughed as Gunny Rigo wrestled his outer suit closed. Cleatus leaned on his front flippers and bent his body upright. The suit bulked up his neck and shoulders.
"Dead sardines taste metallic. We'll be eating fresh whitefish, cuttlefish, squid, krill; a typical seafood diet and. . ."
"Tell them they might father a few baby seals," Professor Getherde said. Kyler gave Getherde a nasty look. "Oh yes you're sexual creatures and you can impregnate females. Think of it as last call in a bar at two AM when all females look good. Consider that it's always hard to resists a female when you're young and horny." Professor Getherde laughed obscenely and slapped Kyler's rump. Kyler jumped to knock him down but Gunny Rigo and the First Mate manhandled him into the fur outer suit and closed the hood over his head. When he turned around, he saw four other Weddell seals flopping on the ice. He poked them with his nose and flippers, helping them acclimate to their new bodies and distinctive movements.
"It's time we finished and got our asses out of here," the First Mate said. He burned a hole in the ice with several flares and marked it with flags above and below the surface of the water. This would be the surveillance team's entry to the underwater world. Five other holes marked with flags existed within five kilometers of this spot. Professor Getherde disassembled the tent while Gunny Rigo and the First Mate loaded the heavier equipment onto the helicopter. Getherde jogged away from the propwash to the bare ice where the four sailors and his intern lay watching. Their new seal-like bodies looked sleek and handsome.
"I need to check your seal suits one last time." He reached around the back of Kyler's head and switched the latch to "external release only." Kyler barked and tried to knock him down but Getherde jumped away.
"You and I must part ways, Kyler Ganesvoort, over unfinished business. Your life-path is not in my laboratory. Sealing you into the suit for the winter will do you a world of good. Who knows, I might even convince your father to build an aquarium to hold you and the sailors as the final payment for your efforts." Getherde latched the closures on the sailors' suits and then ran back to the helicopter.
Sealing the hoods changed the mission. Two months ago, the military only asked Getherde for suits, not willing participants. Kyler only agreed to provide the suits if they had a failsafe in case the Icebreaker Pippen couldn't return to retrieve the four sailors. As seals, the sailors would swim to the mainland, find a human settlement, open the hood and summon help. Gunny Rigo stood on the skid of the helicopter and changed the rules.
"Captain Moonwalker has the Icebreaker Pippen steaming full speed ahead to the open seas to ride out the coming storm. The ice is going to be too thick for us to return in two weeks. Your new orders are to stay on the ice until spring. The Pippen will return next spring to debrief you and find out what is causing the strange happenings on these islands. We think the aliens will reveal themselves mid winter. You're all good men and you know how to survive. Eat the little fishies, mate with the female seals and don't play with the killer whales. Good luck until next spring." Getherde laughed as Rigo swung inside the helicopter. The blades revved up and the copter rose up and away. The sailors accepted the orders of Gunny Rigo without question. They would stand watch for months or years if required. Kyler didn't expect this.
The five newly created seals stared at the sky, thinking about their elongated mission to find aliens on the island. They watched until the blizzard forced them into the water hole. The storm lasted seven days. Not days like normal but Antarctic days where the shallow disk of the sun stayed low to the horizon and circled the sky without rising or setting. When the storm broke, the new seals explored their surroundings -- a block of volcanic rock and ice. Kyler went over to the pillar he looked at only hours earlier. It was his landmark of humanity. A reminder of the last day he was a human. It would be his good-lick charm. Then he went back to the four seals and greeted them with barks and calls.
Across the icy seas Spragg and Morgg sat, staring at their monitors, their three eyes unblinking. Spragg watched the humans count seals and leave the island before the storm turned the screen to snow and Morgg played the alien version of Tetris. Spragg nearly prayed to the storm gods to show some sign in the non-descript wind-whipped white out and cascading snowfall for some sign of humanity. Morgg giggled and chortled behind his back because not even alien technology could reduce the violent boredom of a winter storm -- white on white, drab featureless white on white.
"I thought for certain that last group of men would stay out here, brave the storm," Spragg sighed.
"Stop wasting your time. Their bodies are too fragile. We know that from thirty year old anal probing. They can't stay out in this storm. Even the seals know to hide in the water and let the storm blow." Morgg said without a hint of passion in his voice. Spragg curled his nose slits and snarled. He punched up the images of the last encounter with humans from before the storm.
"This last bunch of humans didn't do anything sensible. They stood around and pointed at seals but they didn't count them. I swear eight humans came out of the helicopter and three left. I still can't figure out how. Maybe they have technology we aren't haven't seen. Maybe they're hiding out there on the ice." Spragg put his head in his webbed hands and leaned on the table.
"It's possible that they merely ventured out here to take in the fresh air." Morgg skimmed through recording and pointed out four places where the men could have reentered the flying machine. Spragg advanced the recording to the last section before the helicopter took off and played Gunny Rigo's goodbye speech.
"Look at this. What sort of human stands on his flying machine and talks to seals? When have seals listened to a human? And those five seals seem to listen to him. That's crazy behavior we never see out of seals. Those humans acted illogically. We know they talk endlessly among themselves but to be so desperate to talk to dumb animals? How could anyone treat a dumb animal like a person? I think he's saying goodbye to the seals and that means the seals are being used as tools. His ugly face looks like he had something compelling to say. Compelling enough to stand in the cold propwash of the hovering machine. He'll the Tunguska expedition discovered just how poorly humans freeze. Perhaps they found another way to explore. You know, I think humans are more devious than we give them credit. You'll never convince me that this human is not acting too self-important to be convincing." Spragg swiveled in his seat as multiple limbs gesticulated and punctuated his speech.
"YouŐre giving me a headache. The last time I heard logic like that, Kragg exploded a planet and destroyed himself. I think you gots a touch of de space-madness, the human jelly beebies, the conspiratorial twitchiness and bumbling brain boogers."
"It's heebie-jeebies in human-speak and I am not going space mad."
"Of course you aren't but you are doing a good imitation of space madness. I don't care if some human might have bared his butt and let the seals impregnate him. We've seen it all before. Humans always leave the seals behind. It's the same old seals and the same old hole and the same old flags so they can find it when they return. That's what's going on, nothing more, nothing less." Morgg tapped his three fingers against the work surface.
"What about this?" Spragg put the image of Kyler's eyeball on the vid-screen. Morgg screamed and jumped away with his hands in front of his face.
"It's a giant human eyeball and it's coming to eat me." He yelled in mock terror. He gave Spragg a few seconds before he laughed. Spragg glared, silent, sullen, ready to plant a foot in one of Morgg's two excretory channels. "So, you got one excellent retinal image. Big deal. Go lock yourself out."
"It's knock not lock. I wish you'd at least make the effort to learn the colloquials better."
"Bite me asswipe. How's that for colloquial." Morgg shifted the image back to the vid-cam. One of the seals cavorted in front of the vid-cam. Morgg rolled his large eyes to the ceiling and laughed out loud. "I'm sure the High Council wants some more pictures of seals." The seal pulled itself around the ice and came closer to the camera. Morgg toggled the controls of the vid-cam and when the seal's face filled the screen, he screamed, waved his splayed hands in front of his face, made his other limbs spasm and flail.
Spragg folded his arms and sat disgusted. "Did your mother once mate with a lesser species? Is that the reason for your behavior or does idiocy just gallop in your family grasslands?"
"There's no reason to get insulting. I was just trying to cheer you up. I apologize for reflecting badly on your mother's ancestry, colorful as it is." Morgg sat down at his computer station and rested his chin on his closed hand. He activated a new version of solitaire and began to play. Spragg walked to the refreshment station and, as the humans say, poured himself a stiff one.
"This is what the High Council gets for not letting us land in a city and talk to the humans directly. Why do we have to hide out here on an ice-covered, sliver of island barely 8 kilometers long with nothing but seals, penguins, birds and wait for the two months of the year when it gets warm enough for humans to not die." He finished with a flourish of fingers and stomping of footpads. Then he drank, swallowed wrong and nearly choked to death. His cursing and coughing filled the room.
"I hope that was as cathartic for you as it was for me. Perhaps you xeno-psychiatrists over-estimated human curiosity. Maybe they aren't as curious as you thought." Morgg rested a hand on Spragg's shoulder. "I've spoken to the First Secretary of the High Council and he shares my concerns. We have his permission to leave if we think the mission is futile. I thought I'd try to cheer you up with a bit of human banter before I broke the news."
"Cheer me? How could admitting the failure of my theories possibly cheer me up?" Spragg folded his four arms over his scrawny chest. Before Morgg could answer, four lights lit up on the control panels.
"Whazzat shiznit doin'?" Morgg remembered a colloquial, his first time
"The ID alarm. I programmed the computer to ID everything. It must have found a match." Spragg's six fingers flew across the keyboard. A human face came up on the screen alongside of a seal's face. Arrows indicated matching details in the retinal scans.
"That can't be right. Verify it." Spragg located the seal on the ice, initiated a second scan and sat back. Morgg waited, drumming his fingers on the edge of the control panel. The computer resolved the interior of the seal's body in a few minutes. They could see the details of Kyler's human form all-twisted, half-transformed inside the seal suit. Morgg sat speechless. "Human profanities. All along they've been lurking as seals, indigenous natives. These humans are the most devious race we've ever met. Now we know that they know we're here. They're watching us watch them. We're watching them watch us. I told you they couldn't resist a puzzle. Spy seals. What a unique concept." Spragg folded his arms in the four self-approval positions.
"You want a deep scan done on all five of them?" Morgg locked the tracking computer onto each seal.
"Not a glow in the dark deep scan, but a monthly scan to document the changes in their skeletal structures and internal organs."
"Dat's de'r problem. Dey's da ones dat come looking," Morgg tried an Earth dialect. Spragg turned his back and leaned over the computer console to hide his face.
"Don't fry them with the scans. They don't know we want them in seal form. We will use their transformations to our advantage. It's better if they initiated the genetic transformation into cold-tolerant creatures rather than just doing it against their will."
"We could leave tomorrow."
"We have time. The floating ship has left and ice is forming, they're stranded here until next spring." Spragg approved the gentler forty-eight hour scans. Morgg searched for something else to do. He'd been fidgety these past days.
"Well, I'm going to make sure they're well fed. After all," he almost squealed, "we wouldn't want specimens in our zoo to be puny, undersized seals, would we? We want them fat and gassy." Morgg sent instructions to his flotilla of mechanical water blobs to herd schools of fish to the waters near the tiny island.
"That's sassy not gassy."
"Stop picking on my colloquialisms," Morgg moaned. Spragg noticed his pout.
The stealthy seal reconnaissance team on Buckle learned to swim fast and deep while playing water games with the other seals and penguins. They didn't realize that aliens drove schools of fish under this portion of the icepack keeping them well fed. They gained muscle and bulk from the exercise. Kyler expected the weight and mass gain. He felt his hands splaying wider and his feet lengthening into broad flippers. His knew that in six to ten months, his legs might stay shortened and his hips might not realign to walking. He imagined ways that he could accommodate to swimming rather than walking. He felt the changes as his body adjusted faster than his previous gig in a seal suit. He couldn't resist eating more and more as the layers of blubber fat and thick hair covered his body. Without opening the suit, he couldn't be sure the changes weren't permanent.
The Antarctic night grew longer, the storms shorter, more violent. The glacial ice thickened. Each seal took his turn watching, exploring and searching the small island for an explanation of floating vaporous globules, ball lightning and wavering enigmatic shapes with multiple limbs and three glowing orbs for eyes. As winter deepened, the seals took to living in the water and coming up only for air. In the worst storm, Kyler, being the most inquisitive, found an ice cave. He guided the others to it. They tolerated the crowded space until the storm broke and winter had spent its fury. The island settled into the long twilight night of subzero temperatures, clear skies and stars.
The seals settled into boredom. Kyler knew the seals needed a physical outlet for their bodies. His job at the Bristol Zoo was not, as was said, entertaining kids. His job was impregnating females before their transfer to other zoos. Sexual release improved his animal life just as it improved his human life. He brought female seals to the team and set up harems for each seal, making them scatter separate air holes. At first, the sailors resisted but within a week, they set about mating with animalistic glee, mounting every female they could attract. The days lengthened and the sun rose higher above the horizon.
As the human calendar year wound down to its last months, summer returned to Antarctica. Temperatures rose almost to zero and wild birds migrated across the islands in the Ross Sea. The seals frolicked and played without a care in the world until the thunder-like rumbling of ice cracking grew loud. An Icebreaker approached.
Kyler returned to the original base, listening for the sounds of a helicopter. The day he heard it, he swam out to find the four sailors, hoping that they at least they could return to human form for a few days while being debriefed.
When the seals arrived at the original campsite, they discovered Professor Getherde, Gunny Rigo, the First Mate and a handful of technicians had burnt a new hole in the ice pack nearly 100 yards away from the original hole. The trio waited on lawn chairs.
"I expected to find them right here, right away. Are you sure we have the correct GPS coordinates?" Professor Getherde asked.
"Maybe, maybe not. We're as close as the GPS service permits down here. Quit worrying so much. These are good men, resourceful men. Relax, take in the sun while its summer." Gunny Rigo leaned back like he was sunbathing in the balmy zero degree summer heat of the Antarctic.
Kyler and the four sailors popped out in the new hole, bouncing onto the ice and barking their greetings. Kyler shifted onto his rear fins like he was standing. He heard reached above Gunny Rigo and the rest of the sailors. The other seals had grown too. Professor Getherde released the hoods and human faces appeared on seal bodies. Technicians set about measuring and examining their seal-like bodies.
"You guys are a sight for sore eyes." Brogan said, his voice week and hesitant.
"Long time no talk," Cleatus added almost barking his syllables.
"You've grown," Gunny Rigo smacked his fist into Vartan's chest with a solid thump. The seal-man didn't move.
"You're late." Vartan reached for Gunny Rigo's hand with his flipper and realized he didn't have the fingers to clutch.
"The waters around this island are rich with fish. We don't lack for food," Kyler look up. The sun felt good on his bare face.
"Kyler's fixed us all up with harems. I got females begging for my new charms. They is barking my name all through the Antarctic," Cleatus shifted his hips and extended his seal-like manhood. A technician jump and the others laugh. Kyler looked at the other seals and humans standing around him. He was easily twice human size and mass. The other seals were just as oversized. Kyler wondered if he wanted to return to human life built as a colossus.
"Just how big are they," Professor Getherde asked. The technician's face told the story of the tape.
"Kyler must weigh in well over 600, maybe 700 pounds, depending, and we think eight feet tall. That's not too shabby for a Weddell seals. Another six months and they'll be twelve hundred pounds and ten feet long," the technician said.
"That's more than a case of the winter chubbies. We're giants compared to you puny men. We done gone and got pumped up," Brogan laughed.
"Son-of-a-bitch, Is it possible we gained a pound a day and two inches a month and not realized it?" Vartan spoke up.
"You two always had such a select diet. See food. Eat food," Gunny Rigo made scarfing and eating noises.
"I set the suits to stay small. Did you change them?" Kyler turned towards Professor Getherde, making him step back and behind Gunny Rigo. Kyler tried to reach behind his head but his flippers couldn't reach. He slid forward and lay on the ice. "Examine that latch and tell me what you see," he ordered the nearest technician. The Technician climb onto his back like mounting a horse.
"Yee hah!" the Technician stuck his legs out and waved his arms, pretending to ride Kyler. The humans laughed and the half-humans barked seal-like sounds.
"Quit fooling and examine the latch," Kyler expected the Technician to say he was locked inside, exposing Getherde.
"This suit's locked. You've been irradiated, about ten times acceptable dosage," the Technician said. No one spoke while he downloaded the memory chip into a tablet computer.
"We scanned for radiation and found none," Gunny Rigo turned to his technicians. They all shook their heads negatively. The other technicians began to scan the rest of the seals. One by one they reported the same results.
"It's exactly every thirty days since you've been here." The Technician reached over Kyler's head and held the tablet in front of his Kyler's face so he could read the results.
"Periodic? That much radiation one time is dangerous but nine scans? What could do nine scans like that?" Kyler said. The Technician, still on Kyler's back, grabbed Kyler's neck and yanked it with all his strength. Kyler's skin moved just like a furry pelt. Kyler yelled and reared partway up. The Technician wrapped his arms and legs around Kyler's body to keep from sliding off. "Sorry, I had to be certain. Is it possible that something intelligent did this?" the Technician asked. Kyler settled back to the ground and shook, thinking that the Technician would slide off but he stayed on Kyler's back.
"All I've seen are the ghostly, floating lights and glowing gasses. I never found any tracks or any solid evidence of aliens," Brogan said. Cleatus, James and Vartan agreed. The Technician stroked the fur on either side of Kyler's neck as he listened to their stories.
"There must be something intelligent out here. The big question is how do we get it to reveal itself?"
"The next scan will happen within a week. I'll set up camp and wait. Hell, I can stay live on the ice," the Technician said, playing with the folds of skin around Kyler's neck.
"There's nothing live on this rock but seals and birds. Even the volcano is dead," Kyler rolled his body slightly to one side, hinting at the man to get off. The Technician stayed astride his back. Kyler bucked hard and the Technician dug in his heels and grabbed Kyler's fur. Kyler growled and rolled his body sideways.
"I didn't mind the yeehaw joke, I didn't mind you yanking my fur but if you don't get off my body you're going to lose your testicles. We're not playing giddyup," Kyler's voice rumbled through his body.
The Technician swung one leg over Kyler's back and stood, leaning back against Kyler's broad chest. Kyler brought a flipper up to move him away but the Technician grabbed it and started to examine it. Kyler whipped his flipper away and pushed the Technician off.
"I'm not your furry pet. Quit stroking my fur." The Technician turned beet red and shuffled away from Kyler.
"But you're so soft and cuddly," he said. The men laughed until Kyler rose taller than any one of them and roared.
"I am not cuddly. Touch me again I'll bite your fucking arm off," Kyler yelled.
"Sorry, my bad, my bad."
"Fucking A your bad. We're not here to play. We're here to find aliens." Kyler looked around and let his temper subside. "Let's start by counting up the possibilities. One, they're gone. Two, they're still collecting data. Three, they make contact and leave. Four, they make contact and start fitting us for permanent anal probes. Fifth, they make contact and give us all their secrets."
"You don't need a sixth. We get it," Professor Getherde interrupted. Kyler smiled at his discomfort. Getherde had to defer to Kyler. He couldn't wear a suit due to a genetic deformity. The Technician snapped his fingers at one of the other technicians and took the tablet computer and tapped at the screen. It showed the radiation sensor on the helicopter reading zero.
"The Chopper is mil spec and hardened. Its sensors would have registered a radiation surge. They didnŐt scan you when you first landed and they aren't scanning us now. They waited until the helicopter left," the Technician said.
"You could leave me on the ice with a radiation sensor and a radio. You could even take the Icebreaker Pippen out of the icepack and make like I'm stranded. I'm absolutely certain that I can survive long enough to be here when the aliens initiate the scan. It's not that cold. It's summer. I won't freeze to death that fast."
"Captain Moonwalker would never permit it," Gunny Rigo waved his arms like a referee signaling an out of bounds.
"I outrank Moonwalker here on land. Do I have to order you to do it my way?"
"Do you think Captain Wapaheo Moonwalker got to be Captain of his vessel being finessed that easily? He prepared written orders to pack a seal suit just in case." Gunny Rigo waved a folded piece of paper in the technician's face and then barked an order into his walkie-talkie. The copilot of the helicopter threw a package out onto the ice. "If you want to play big chief survivor dude on the ice, you wear the suit. If not, I have written orders from Captain Moonwalker to haul your ass back to the ship screaming and yelling if you must."
"How about if you just leave it and me on the ice? I'll seal myself inside the suit if I get in trouble."
"What if the aliens don't scan you?" Gunny Rigo asked.
"Then I become a seal. It's worth the risk. Contact is the next step for mankind."
"And who's to vouch for your behavior? Kyler? Chances are he is as close to being a seal as any human can get and not return to human form. You'll resist the suit until the last possible minute and then, no one will be around to help you if you timed it wrong. I don't want your death on my watch," Gunny Rigo challenged. The Technician turned to confront the Professor.
"Gimme a break, men don't transform that fast, do they Professor? Come on, throw me a line here. How long does it take to transform all the way?" The Professor sat silent, thinking. Kyler spoke before the Professor finished his mental calculations.
"Well I figure we're going to make it to the solstice. After that, we'll be seals." Heads turned at the coldness in Kyler's voice. "Isn't that just about the right length of time for getting rid of a colleague, Professor. After all, you discovered and refined all the parameters of genetic chimeras. You should be able to calculate these number in your head." All heads turned toward Professor Getherde.
"The Solstice is in three weeks and that sounds just about right. One heavy scan and these hoods won't open again. That's all the time you'll have before they lose the ability to revert even slightly to human form. I suggest we return on December twenty-first and pick up this foolish technician or his frozen corpse. You know, young man, if you walked to the top of the glacier and froze yourself into the ice, your body might surface in ten or twenty thousand years. By that time, Captain Moonwalker won't matter and you'll be off the hook for your foolish decision." The men and seals chuckled. Kyler didn't.
"You rotten bastard. You still have to guess at all the calculations," Kyler answered. All eyes turned to Kyler as he began to recite a series of straightforward calculations. When he reached the end, the final equation predicted six months left until his complete conversion, less for the sailors. Kyler pushed Professor Getherde to reveal what was so hard about the numbers that his calculation was off by six months. The Professor walked up to Kyler and launched a stream of vulgarities in reply. Kyler rose to his full height and cursed as good as he received, including calling into question the Professor's common sense. The crew cringed as each man's vituperation sank into personal insults, bodily functions and parentage.
Finally, Gunny Rigo dog-whistled them into silence. He pulled Professor Getherde to one side.
"I don't tolerate this kind of behavior from my men and I won't tolerate it from you. The crew of the Icebreaker Pippen doesn't give a shit that you screwed Kyler Ganesvoort out of recognition by stranding him out here last year. They do care that you used four of their mates to make your plan work. That's why Captain Moonwalker brought in a platoon of technicians to learn everything about the seal suit and chimerical transformations. You're goose is cooked Professor. When we get back, you'll be dumped into some obscure posting where you won't be able to do anything like that ever again. If you don't like it, I'll let the crew broadcast your double-dealing to the world. You ain't never seen a shitstorm like that on the Internet. I suggest you shut your fucking piehole and take obscurity like a man. Now go sit in the helicopter like a good little boy and wait until we decide about leaving a man on the ice." Gunny Rigo lit a cigarette and waited for Getherde to reach the helicopter before he confronted the Technician.
"And as for you," Gunny Rigo turned to the Technician and not Kyler. "You bleeding idiot. You're a real live jackass if you think you can survive on this rock for more than a day without freezing to death. We all know that. Instead of acting out like a ten year old brat, get in the damn suit if you want to stay on the ice." He took a drag and coughed from the cold air.
"I, uh, just want to be one of the first to meet and greet the aliens." They laughed.
"You want to be first among equals." Gunny started imitating the Technician's voice, raising the pitch and intonation into childlike tones. "I'm a glory hungry dickhead willing to do anything to be number one and I make all my coworkers so miserable and distracted, they fall all over themselves to save my conniving asshole." The First Mate gasped and rolled his face up to the sky.
"Now that's a little harsh," the Technician rubbed his hand over his face.
"The crew calls you taint-crud and backstabber and dick-brain behind your back," the First Mate offered. Gunny Rigo waved him off.
"We don't want you to stand out here freeze to death but we do want you to just go away," one of the other technicians spoke up. The Technician went over to the shipping crate with the suit inside.
"That's enough. Just don't cheer when you seal my seal suit, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, punny joke guys, laugh at the punny joke." No one laughed. The First Mate farted, which seemed appropriate to everyone involved. He dragged the seal suit near Kyler and laid the suit out on the ice. Without a word, he undressed on the cold ice and slid his feet into the flippers. Another technician held up his gloves and helped him roll into the outer suit. His smaller, seal-like body lay on the ice with his human face exposed.
"Are you sure this is what you want?" Kyler asked.
"In the slim chance the aliens make contact, we're in for the adventure of a lifetime. If there's no aliens, I'll just be another seal like you," he proudly announced. Vartan leaned towards him.
"We're here under orders but you're a simple-minded, crazy-stupid fool," Vartan grumbled, shifted his shoulders and flopped onto his side. The First Mate jumped away with a yelp.
"He's a complete fucking idiot but he gets to make his own decisions. Close up his suit and police the ice," Gunny Rigo ordered. He sealed Cleatus and James' suits first.
Gunny Rigo straddled Kyler's back to seal the hood.
"The fool was right. You do feel soft and sexy."
"He gives a good massage. I'll make sure he's settled on the ice."
"I feel for you Dude. Getherde's going down but it still doesn't feel right."
"Doesn't matter much any more. Come back next summer and I'll let you know if there really are aliens out here. The hoods will always open. Getherde doesn't know that. It's a quirk of the suits. I didn't tell the others because I don't think it's too safe on the ice."
"I can't imagine life at twenty-five below."
"It's brisk and refreshing. Winter tends to dry the lips. Did I ever tell you I think the aliens hid their surveillance device in the volcanic pillar over there."
"Maybe if you go stick your nose into it something will happen." Gunny Rigo sealed Kyler's hood and went to the helicopter. Six seals watched the helicopter rise into a cloudless sky. Other eyes, alien eyes, watched the seals.
"Now that was different," Spragg said, watching the helicopter fade into the distance. "Did you see how cold affected that human's body. The shrinkage, the shriveling, the shaking, so much for their vaunted beliefs that they are the dominant species of the planet." Spragg activated the interface in the volcanic pillar. It ID'd the new human-seal hybrid and began its scan. He plopped into his control chair and reviewed the humans on the ice, again. Morgg shook his head at his partner's efforts.
"We seem to have reached another typical human beginning and ending again, haven't we? Kind of shatters the nerves wondering if a species that get pleasure of out of rhythmic anal vibrations is really smarter than they appear, doesn't it?" Morgg asked.
"These humans are messing with us by not acting like rational human nitwits. They're usually slaves to their physical bodies. All this made sense years ago but it doesnŐt today. Why didn't they all try to leave? WE could have stopped them if they tried to leave. That would have counted as an abduction opportunity. But they didn't. Oh please tell me why they didn't. Is it possible they are willing to live out their uneventful lives as seals? They don't have to live on that rock. Would any logical person do that? It's like so stupid to add one man to the group. What purpose are they hoping to achieve? It might make sense if human's liked being seals and didnŐt care if they can't return to human form, or if they needed extra expertise or if they think something important is going to happen."
"You're babbling, you know."
"I'm playing human think. Too bad I donŐt have two mouths. Their leaders saying the obvious and mean the unobvious. Truth and fiction are truly pliable terms to these creatures"
"What if they only suspect that we're here and are waiting for us to make a move? Could they be that passive about contact? I mean, what if their curiosity was tempered by caution? That's a thought. I've had other thoughts I didn't want to disturb you with. You know, it's quite possible they see our displays as metaphysical miracles and think we're the seal gods. Whatever their reason, it might be our move," Morgg said. His words hit Spragg between his metaphorical eyes.
"Of course. You're right. We're playing standoff, first to speak politics. How fast can you scan that new seal?"
"Minutes, seconds really. But the blubber will render out of his body. Remember spontaneous human combustion, well that fast. I haven't spontaneously combusted anything in decades even. Flambe' of seal would get their attention. All that rendered blubber is a real attention getter."
"Don't destroy him. Just irradiate him enough to alter his genetic structure thank you. I'll goose up the nutrients in the fish they eat. In six months, they'll all be full sized. That's when we abduct them," Spragg said, tapping his six fingers on the table.
"And you know this because you're clairvoyant? I didn't see that on your resume."
"I read it off their ugly faces. All I see on their faces is determination. If they think this is the way to meet us and we think they are going to show up with more sophisticated equipment, who wins -- us or them? I'm taking a chance that our strategy has been wrong. Humans are mightily passive-aggressive and if they are waiting for us to act and we are waiting for them to act and we both wait. Well we could wait until the sun supernovas and nothing will happen," Spragg tried to explain but Morgg wasn't buying it.
"You sound like some of those human radio shows. Let's just say that this is all your idea and do it. I want to see my family again. I do declare, my darling, we have our semi-human specimens, they're volunteers, they're fat and sappy, and we can deliver them to the ice world without modification." Morgg sighed three times. Spragg ignored the sighs as he typed additional instructions for the water blobs to herd extra fish for the newcomer.
"Sassy not sappy. I'm going to increase the ice pack so their flying and floating ships can't return and about a week before we leave this planet, I'm going to gift them the short-range telepathy of the Aldebarans. I want to be able to talk to them."
"The High Council hates telepathic aliens."
"The High Council lies about everything. They'll shut up when we deliver six human colonists to the ice world. As far as I'm concerned, the High Council can go spork itself in public."
"Isn't that fork, rather than spork?" Morgg asked, wagging a single finger in a human scold, thinking he finally caught Spragg in a mistake.
"Something like that. We are the head of the arrow, the blazing white heat of takeoff, the wide corona of a massive prick plunging into virgin territory," Spragg said, giggling for hours at his linguistic mockery. Humans had such wonderfully vulgar expressions. Morgg never caught the double entendre. He seemed distracted, preoccupied.
Above Buckle Island
On the longest night of the winter, the Aurora Australis lit up the sky above the bottom half of the earth as Morgg brought the spaceship to full power on Spragg's command.
"Deploying containment in preparation of complete capture." Spragg's force bubble leaked magnetic and ionizing radiation into the already ionized air as it enclosed nearly 2000 square kilometer of the Ross Sea enclosing Buckle Island, the six human-seal chimeras and the ocean surrounding it. It floated on the ocean.
"Containment stabilized, vacuum and radiation shields established. How fast do you want to move?" Morgg answered from the opposite end of the control room.
"Not fast enough to shake them like a snowglobe, I hope."
"I can protect our human seals. Taking them out to Neptune and back around the moon gives them a new perspective on life. That an I get off watching everything slosh around the force globe."
"More like smashing into muddy dust against force shield. You will not go faster than five miles upward in ten minutes for the next six hours and don't decelerate faster than that rate. If that isn't enough sloshing around, then you'll have to go watch simulations on the computer."
"Even on this, the most moonless, longest night, astronomers are going to see the energy field around the island as it floats away."
"I don't really care how many people see the island floating up, up and away. This is first contact."
"Shaft-nered by Captain Kangaroo," Morgg winked his leftmost eyeball.
"Wrong K. Think Kirk. He's the special K you need." Spragg smirked behind Morgg's back as he signaled the computer on the mothership to meet them at Lagrange 5. "I'm going to meet our specimens for the first time. I'm sure you can manage here in the control room without messing up? Remember that all commands are recorded by the main computer so if you play without specimens and damage them, then the High Council will see it."
"I still think it's more fun when they arrive a little muddled. So does half the council."
"Half the council members are addle-brained fools who can't function unless they snort a few lines of goofy dust up each nose. I'm settling these specimens on the ice planet."
"Uncle Gaargg will be unhappy. How about I take the largest animal seal and flash-roast it right before you get there? Nothing like a corpse turning to ashes to put fear into human minds," Morgg's lips quivered and a tear rollercoasted down his double chins and onto his front butt. It was flushed and swollen. The reason for Morgg's behavior bulged for all to see.
"Are you crying? Is that a tear I see? Maybe an Uncle Gaargg tear?" Spragg whirled his head around and stuck a nose to the ceiling of the control room, the universal dismissal of to those of lower rank. "Now I understand why you've been incorrigible on this mission. You're in the family way."
"I am not. I am just as masculine as you are and I refuse to be, to be," he broke first into sobs and then into a flood of tears. "Uncle Gaargg did it to me the day before we left. I told him not to do it but you know sex hormones. I was screaming in pleasure for hours and that's always successful. Dirty old man still has it. I tried keeping it secret but all those mothering hormones got the best of me. Why is our planet cursed with horny old men who think they know it all? He's ruined my research twice now." Morgg crumpled into Spragg's arms, tears cascading like water dripping out of a spigot.
"If it will do you any good, you can pick two of the largest male seals and reduce them to oil spots by spontaneous combustion. I think a good flambe of seal will do you a world of good."
Spragg held Morgg until he stopped sobbing and sighing. Morgg went from depressed to manic. His face brightened and he planned an elaborate entrance for Spragg. Reluctantly, Spragg agreed but he set limits on the controls so that Morgg couldn't damage himself or the specimens.
Kyler and the human seals saw the Aurora spread across the skies and the force shield engulf the island, cauterize it from its volcanic foundation and lift it from the earth -- water, rock, seals fish and birds. Waves washed over much of the lower ice.
Cerro Tololo tracked it as it circled the moon twice and moved off to Lagrange 5. Every other observatory ignored the phenomena. So did most governments on the earth. Real proof of aliens was considered just too much for the common people to handle. The common people for their part watched the bright spot as it moved through the skies. As the governments of earth told the people it was a freak refraction of a solar anomaly, sunspots possibly. With their right hand, the people of earth pointed to the heavens. With their left hands, they thumbed their noses at the government spokespersons and made rude, farty noises come out of their buttocks. Then they mailed their streaky underwear to the politicians. Faced with an onslaught of dirty underwear never before seen in the vaunted halls of earthly power and definitive proof of alien existence, world leaders negotiated world peace.
Beyond The Solar System
"Greetings earthmen. We come in peace to offer you new opportunities and experiences," Spragg announced mentally. The seals moved well away from the two aliens as they stepped onto the ice.
"I thought they were going to stand here in rapt attention," Morgg's face drooped.
"Perhaps two flaming seals flanking the golden staircase wasn't as awe inspiring as you thought?"
"I thought they'd be thrilled."
"In their words this is shock and awe. Culturally, they don't see this as a raw display of power. Look at them quivering over there and look at the slicks they left. Now that's impressive. You ought to send it to the Book of Records -- longest fear-induced skidmark in any medium." Spragg's three eyes sparkled and several sets of lips grinned with glee as his suggestion caused a third pair of mammaries glands popped out of Morgg's torso. He celebrated his emotional coup in causing Morgg to advance from singly pregnant, to doubly and now triply pregnant. "I did some colloquial studies and it seems that none of the earthmen are diplomats or royalty or even married. They're military. The sight of two seals rising from the ground and bursting into flame didn't translate as the endearment we both know and love, but a warlike threat. I mean they aren't even lovers among themselves, even in the most casual sense."
"Damn these natives and their colloquialisms. I hope this makes you happy. Let's pretend it was swamp gas." Morgg surveyed his handiwork and shrugged. Spragg touched his remote control and all or Morgg's entrance effects disappeared, leaving the two aliens alone on the ice with the human-seals. A second touch to the keypads and both aliens appeared as bipedal creatures with vaguely humanoid features.
"Don't think of it as your epic fail. I can spin it as a means to instill trust the projected of our bodies. They're going to think we're humanoid." Spragg walked over to where the humans cowered. He put on his best voice to announce his presence.
"If you save me from public ridicule, I'll name my children after you," Morgg's image suddenly discovered a hanky in his hands. Spragg's image just smiled.
"Greetings from the High Council of Timergogg. We come in peace to explore new civilizations and reach out to all sentient civilizations across the galaxy. To facilitate our encounter, we have gifted you telepathy as a sign of our benevolence and welcome you to the Concurrence of Sentient Civilizations of the Spiral Galaxy Milk Path. At least that's what the translator says you call this galaxy. Forgive us, your language and our computers are happy with each other."
"What happened to those seals?" Cleatus' bulk shook like jelly.
"A computer glitch. We're using the Timergogg equivalent of Windows this trip. Trust me, a program gone bad."
"This is all bullshit. We're seals we can't talk. They are real," Vartan yelled. He felt his seal-mouth moving with the words.
"We gave you telepathy since your current bodies cannot talk. Consider it our gift to your new forms."
"Are you responsible for the earthquakes of the past few hours," Kyler asked. He slipped closer to the alien's shimmering form.
We chose you as Earth's representatives. To facilitate that, we lifted Buckle Island and a portion of the sea. Currently we are awaiting clearance to, uh, let's say warp away," Spragg loved lying his ass off. That was his species' tell in poker games, or what passed for poker on alien worlds; each lie made his buttocks grow smaller.
"What are you going to do to us?"
"To the High Council on the Ice Planet. It's very much like Earth's polar region. Your bodies will be well suited to life on the Ice Planet. Hundreds of planets in the Concurrence of Sentient Civilizations await you. We wanted to warn you before we left earth."
"What's the catch," Kyler asked.
"Catch? You won't be able to return to earth, most likely and you'll always be seals. But we will teach you all about intergalactic diplomacy." The seals huddled together.
"This was our mission, first contact. Take us to your leader," Kyler thought of a smile and his seal-like face smiled. Spragg touched his control pad. The mothership surrounded Buckle Island in cascading sheets of energy as it twisted time and space. They left the solar system never to be heard from again.
Unless you believe in sequels.
9700 words more or less
FUTURES YET UNKNOWN
Ten Stories by Dave Fragments
*An Alien serial murderer and a furry detective with fleas.
*Murder on a world with altered humans.
*Disturbing apocalyptic visions *Monstrous dystopian societies.
*A man on trial for betraying the human race to robots.
*Devils, demons and ghosts.
*Survivors of a plague war.
*Cyborgs trying to be human.
*Six friends in a strange sinkhole.
*The truth about a world drowning in rain, without sun, without hope.
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