December 7, 2019

Free Fiction Friday: A Standard of Deviation Part 3

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And the tale continues. Let’s jump right into it this week, with as little fanfare as possible. Remember, you can read A Standard of Deviation and other original tales of science fiction by yours truly, and remember to start back with Chapter 1.


A Standard of Deviation


David Dickinson


I even felt a little guilty as I made the first jump of any update run. Secretly, I always looked forward to traveling as a way to kick myself out of the chronic workaholic rut. It’s selfish, I know… but the guise of ‘work’ gives me the perfect excuse to do what I love. I can escape and see some of these alien species, in person. Not many folks beyond the Terran military and the merchant class ever get to do that. Ambassadors and researchers like me were clumped into the less than one percent of “all others” that have ever jumped out this far along the Galactic Rim. Most folks on the Local Group worlds go their entire lives never encountering an alien species that might upset their idea of ‘normal’ beyond what you might see on a holo-vid or in a local planet-side zoo. I’ve always been glad that Lila has never asked to drag me to the zoo on New Seattle. Perhaps she just knows me that well.

My first jump this run was to CoRoT-14b, a “Hot-Jupiter” world and home to a species known as Humboldt’s Leviathans.

I remember the very first jump I had done in my service as a quantum courier — it seems like an eon ago — to a world orbiting a gas giant not so different than this one. It was home to a species known cryptically as the Parasitic Fungusoids of Algieba VI.  I had endlessly studied holo-vids of them and uploaded every bit of data on them to my portable neural net. I was Kerri Jovejoy Librarian 4th Class in those days, and this girl humanoid ambassador was going to make a good first impression.

The dropping off of the Quantum Standard at the embarkation point went by the numbers and without incident. I had been well trained in the terms of protocol and said my lines at each and every station like an actress in a well-rehearsed play. I was free to explore the inhabited moon of Algieba VI and then all I had left to do was simply pick up the Standard upon exiting the system. The Parasitics — I prefer the more endearing term “Puffers” —were one of the few species we were currently on fairly good terms with. If you could imagine a cross between a spotted toadstool and a swollen terrestrial grizzly bear, you had some notion of the appearance of the Puffers. They were content to scavenge their home on an Earth-sized moon. I knew that a portion of the Puffers’ plant bodies ran deep underground, with some even spanning the girth of a continent. They did manage to set up a small abode for an oxygen-breathing life form like myself. How strange a walking primate like me must have looked to them. But it took me some time to get Esteris, the Puffer that was sent to translate for me, around to the subject of his species’ history and mythology. Instead, he seemed more interested in discussing human sexual proclivities and showing me his prowess at releasing spores.

“Has your kind ever seen such a seed cloud?” He’d ask via the neural interface as I tried in vain to engage his fruiting body in a meaningful conversation.

I’d remarked that I hadn’t, reminding myself that such acts of libido were indeed the same throughout the cosmos. Humanity wasn’t overly interested in the Puffers once we were certain that they weren’t a threat or a nuisance… we’d marked their world as Class 4, which meant that it possessed various trace rare elements. The Puffers also managed to do a brisk minor trade of various manufactured goods (aluminum was almost unknown to them) and produced stimulants that our pharmacologists had identified as compatible for galactic trade. The Puffers digested the small furry mammal-like creatures that inhibited the bogs of the moon and crafted exquisite talismans sought after throughout the galaxy. Esteris told me that, for a stroking of his spore sac, he’d not only regale me with a little Puffer mythology, but also give me the jeweled talisman he had just excreted.

And that’s how I became the foremost expert on Puffer mythology. As I brushed his under-sac with a long-bristled frond, I had managed to extract the Puffer equivalent of Beowulf out of Esteris’ centuries-old underground brain. Sure, I felt a little like an inter-species prostitute, but it was all for science… and Lila now has a beautiful Puffer-excreted talisman on a necklace that’s the envy of New Seattle to prove it. I don’t think she’d even minded me stepping out a bit with a strange alien fruiting body. After all, we’d joke later on that it was just the “quantum-entangled me.” My contacts were a bit mad when I arrived late at the Algieba VI exit portal, but I did my part to maintain peace and goodwill with the Puffers…

And that’s how I learned to be relaxed and unwind a bit on these Standard-synchronizing courier runs. The weight of reality and the cards dealt by the cosmos can get you down sometimes, and I try hard to maintain a sense of wonder at all these species that I meet in my travels.

And my first stop on this particular run would be one of my favorites. Humboldt’s Leviathans had contacted us only centuries before, and in many ways had a culture that far exceeded our own. How city-sized gas-bags managed to construct a radio-beaming technology using resonances focused from both their enormous gas giant world and their own bodies is an amazing feat in and of itself. The universe comes up with some pretty wondrous things. And yet, you or I could stand next to a Leviathan and puncture it with your little finger. They’re a gentle race, content to skim the sunny skies of their methane atmosphere for photo-synthetics. Definitely not the galactic empire-building type.

The homeworld of Humboldt’s Leviathans is many times the size of Sol’s Jupiter. It swelled large in our viewport after we departed the industrial portal parked on one of its tiny moons. The Leviathans’ homeworld just missed ignition via deuterium fusion and becoming a brown dwarf star by only a few Jupiter masses.

On this stay, I would be visiting the Leviathans via a personal atmospheric skimmer, complete with all the comforts that a frail human water-bag like me needed to survive. The Leviathans knew me well and had given me wondrous tours of their world in the past. The Ammonium Crystal Stock Forests, the Lewis Maelstrom, even several unauthorized dives ever deeper down to the transition zones deep in the planet’s interior until the skimmer’s pressure alarms sounded under the stress of a thousand atmospheres.  I had done my part for the Empire and Humanity as I dropped off the Standard on the nearby moon for synchronization. It was time now to visit some old friends.

To be continued…

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