September 23, 2019

Free Fiction Friday: A Standard of Deviation Part 4

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Uneasy is the state of the human-enforced Pax Galactica, as our chief protagonist and quantum-hopping Librarian 3rd Class turned courier is finding out. This week, we invite you to meet the gas giant-dwelling Leviathans and hear of their plight. Can’t wait for weekly installments? You can read (and rate!) A Standard of Deviation and other original sci-fi tales in their entirety as well, as don’t forget to start back on Chapter 1.

Also, let know what you think of this latest universe where humans are privy to instantaneous travel and leverage it to their own advantage… we’ve got a few other tales in the ol’ brain brewing that are set in the Standard Universe…

 

A Standard of Deviation

by

David A. Dickinson

Chapter 4

 

A Leviathan that I’d named Arthur pulled up next to my skimmer as I neared the atmospheric capital. The Leviathan language was transmitted via low frequency pulses that I had played no small part in translating on previous visits. I could spot Arthur by how his internal organs flickered with recognition on my approach. How weird we must seem to them, tiny ape-like creatures inhabiting the skins of cold rocky worlds.

“Ma’am, we were hoping it was you,” Arthur called out over the ship’s translator. It was always hard to gauge emotion and tone as translated by a machine’s proxy, but I sensed that Arthur was agitated in some way.

“Arthur, how are the hatchlings?” I waited for the encoder to translate the signal into light pulses that Arthur could understand. I watched as the upper cloud decks wheeled overhead and Arthur’s huge mass eclipsed the blue-white star of the system.

“I… must warn you, Ma’am… your presence isn’t welcome near the capital…”

Being almost irritatingly circumspect was a skill the Leviathans had honed to perfection, and I knew that Arthur’s sudden directness was a sure sign of trouble and needed to be taken seriously.

“Arthur, what’s wrong?”

A long pause ensued before the translator crackled back to life.

“My… associates hope to have a word with your kind, concerning the <Untranslated> mining operations. You present one of the very few channels of communications for us. We must speak of the great slaughtering.”

I saw a different pulsation pattern from within Arthur, one I had never seen before. I watched as methane droplets condensed on Arthur’s smooth exterior, and I wondered if this was a Leviathan’s way of crying. Was I being insensitive by asking about members of his pod that had been killed?

“Arthur,” I asked, “can you show me?”

Arthur led me to an area on the edge of the Floating Stock Forests. Here, Leviathans would gather and bask in the upwelling thermals from deep in the planet’s interior as biotic debris rode the currents and flotsam rained down from above through the crystalline stocks of ammonium. This was a Leviathan’s equivalent of the Good Life, a feasting ground resort. The first time I was here, huge herds of Leviathan pods stretched out for as far as the eye could see. They were so dense that I had to be careful with the skimmer’s thrusters. Now, only a few haggard Leviathans could be seen, and those that were here were pale and sickly looking.

A shadow moved across the forest. Arthur sank into the ethane depths out of sight. I turned off all power except the shipboard batteries and watched the movement in the cloud decks high above. From the sharp angular shapes, I could tell that the shadow was a human ship, and it was lowering its tethers into the atmosphere as I watched. Zooming in with the ship’s viewer, I saw those tethers sweeping up an unidentified something, no doubt the untranslatable material Arthur had spoke of…

In my experience, it’s usually the technical-scientific terms used by a species that any auto-translation program has the most problems with.

I wasn’t prepared for what I saw next.

I watched in horror as several of the tethers ripped through the skins of a pair of unsuspecting Leviathans. Several more scrambled to escape, as the flow of the suction from the snaking tethers pulled them back and swiftly ripped them to shreds. The hoses were cutting through the ethereal Leviathans swiftly and without notice. Several flitter sharks dove in to clean up the scattered remains.

My heart pounded as I restrained myself from chasing after the miner craft. Obviously, this action was being taken by those who were oblivious to the enormous damage being inflicted on this gentle and peaceful race. I knew that my best bet was to advocate for them.

It all seems very naïve in retrospect.

I headed to the mining district office immediately upon return to the portal station on the 3rd moon of the Leviathan homeworld to inform them of the disaster. The moon had been terraformed decades ago to provide a human habitable zone at its poles, and the weather was humid and tropical compared to the crisp air of New Seattle.

After filling out interminable electro-forms and waiting for hours, I managed to meet with a gaunt woman that I learned later was the local mining committee’s Public Affairs Liaison. She scanned briefly over the submitted forms more out of what I felt was formality than a true understanding.

“So, you’re here on a courier run from…” She paused to look back down at the form. “New Seattle, correct?”

I cut to the chase. “This mining operation here has to stop. You’re killing the Leviathans…”

She looked away from me again, “The deuterium mining operation supports the fusion reactors on several systems, including this moon. All the proper environmental impact clauses have been cited…”

“Impact clauses? Do you even know that you’re killing a sentient species?”

“The Leviathans are a Class 4 sub-species and no threat to this operation…”

I nearly had to be escorted from her office, but knew that losing it would mean having my courier license revoked.  For the first time, I felt truly helpless as I headed towards the pickup point for the Standard and departure through the gate. The extermination of the Leviathans was fueling the very gate I was helping to synchronize. I was brought up to think that humanity had helped to make the Confederation of galactic species possible; at the very least, our supremacy halted the expansion of other feared species like the Von Neumann’s (more on them in a bit). Deuterium was plentiful in many uninhabited gas giants throughout the cosmos, and it was only greed and laziness that fueled the senseless mining operation being carried out here. The Leviathans’ only crime was announcing their presence to us in the first place… but how was I to help them as a Librarian 3rd Class?

To be continued…

Read A Standard of Deviation and other original tales of sci-fi in their entirety.

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