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Prime Directive
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)

Page 1

Zwar Cleb scroobed down to the water and oozed towards the shore. Behind him, the ship floated, lightly touching the waves, her vast bulk light as a feather.

"Be careful, Zwar Cleb," the ship ziggered. "Please."

"Arenít I always?" Zwar Cleb gronkled back, reaching out with a tentacle to clutch at a wave. The alien city grew slowly closer, rising white and grey out of the edge of the sea, as he crawled towards it. "Do you remember a single instance when I wasnít?"

The ship was silent for a long time. "Still," she ziggered finally, when Zwar Clebís grasping tentacles touched the sand of the beach, "you could, just this time, even by accident, you know Ė"

Tuning her out momentarily, Zwar Cleb bent an eyestalk to look closely at an animal lying on the sand. It was small, smooth, streamlined and glittering, as though it ought to be moving swiftly and gracefully, but it flopped back and forth, an orifice in its front end opening and closing. Watching it, Zwar Cleb transmitted a mental image back to the ship. "What do you think?" he gronkled.

The ship, interrupted in mid-zigger, took a millishomoy to change mental gears. "It would seem to be out of its element," she signalled finally.

"Yes, the shape and the appearance of the limbs suggests it ought to be in the water," Zwar Cleb agreed. "Therefore, it should be in the water."

"But just suppose it isnít!" the ship worried. "Suppose it is there because it wants to be, because it likes it there, because..."

"...it wants to commit suicide?" The thingís flopping was getting weaker, its orificeís opening and closing slowing. Zwar Cleb flattened the end of one tentacle into a spatulate triangle, pushed it under the animal, and flicked. The creature described a parabola through the air and splashed into the water. For a moment, it hung motionless in the liquid, as though unable to believe its senses. Then, with a flick of its tail, it dived towards the wet, welcoming, shelter of the ocean floor.

"You took a big risk," the ship hambarred. "You might have caused it irreparable harm. Just because it came out well this time doesnít mean that itís going to work always. You know that huge mistakes were made in the past trying to help, like Zwar Meegum that time when..."

Zwar Cleb tuned out the scolding. From so close to the city, he could make out that the tall white buildings were empty and desolate, the streets between them filled with detritus. "Ship?" he moggled.

"Yes?"

"Remember that when we were in orbit we found there were no electronic transmissions?" He sent back a mental image of the empty, deserted streets. "We thought it was because the inhabitants had advanced to the point where they didnít need transmissions, but it looks like we were mistaken."

The ship digested this for a full hundredth part of a shomoy. "Still," she ziggered, "we have to check. There may after all be survivors."

Zwar Cleb groofed in agreement. He dragged himself over a seawall on to a street, and scroobed along it. It was so full of debris that he had frequently to squeeze himself to half his girth in order to get by it, or even had to climb over it, which was of course time-consuming, and would have been exhausting if he had to rely on bones and muscles for locomotion, like a hamandistar hargiley or something. And as he went, his bottom tentacles tasted everything he touched, looking for the slightest trace of life.

"No animate life forms yet," he informed the ship, "except for some microscopic creatures too small to have thought processes. I am, of course, leaving them alone."

Then at last he found life. It was a brown, shining creature with six jointed limbs and a pair of long, thin tentacles at one end, which flicked back and forth. Zwar Cleb stared at it for a half shomoy and then decided it was probably too small to have any great capacity for self-awareness, and was probably just urban wildlife, like a shohorer idur. When he tried to reach out and touch it to make sure, it scuttled away from him as fast as it could go.

[ Continue to page 2 ]

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Genre:Living Dead
Type:Short story
Rating:6.64 / 10
Rated By:18 users
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