A short explanation: Over at this week, I’ve written a scifi tale using the Lovecraftian Cthulhu Mythos, or elements thereof. Joseph Devon came up with a very different take on the same subject matter. My original story, the idea I rejected in favour of the story I wrote, was similar in some ways to his. I have added it below so both can be read, but this one doesn’t detract from the Arena.
Captain Aubin Gue sat back in his command chair and wriggled just a little as the padding adapted to his form, cupping him in perfect safety and comfort. He allowed his gaze to wander around the Bridge taking in his officers, each one hard at work amid what, to the untrained eye, must have seemed a bewildering array of free standing displays and gesture sensitive control areas. He reflected that the entire vessel could be navigated and directed from here by no more than seven or eight people, which made him wonder what the other eight hundred crew were for. Especially considering how powerful and competent the ship’s computer was.
The computer chimed softly and Lieutenant Kzzzzt’krgggl passed a huge armoured paw through the communications interface.
“SIRRRRRR,” he rumbled “SIGNAL FROM FLEET COMMAND. SHALL I RELAY IT?”
Moments after the Lieutenant began to speak, Gue’s command chair noticed the decibel level rise and formed soft earbuds which it popped into place before the Captain suffered too much discomfort.
“On screen, Lieutenant. Oh, and Lieutenant? Indoor voice.”
“SIR! I mean…sir…”
Lieutenant Kzzzzt’krgggl was a Grakt, a race of what looked like armoured snapping turtles who, everyone had always assumed, were aggressive and paranoid but who, it now turned out, were actually a strongly family oriented society of warrior poets much given to introspection on the nature of honour and the sublimation of the self to allow the group to succeed. This didn’t do much to explain their racial tendency towards shocking violence or their habit of declaring war on people, things and concepts, but the United Polity of Folks didn’t want to question this too much since recent diplomatic efforts had finally brought the Grakt into the tent, so to speak, and facing the right way.
The viewscreen lit up and displayed the careworn features of Admiral Church.
“Ahhh. Aubin. Just the man. I have a mission for you.”
Captain Gue sat at attention. Church, his hazel eyes dulled only a little by his advanced age, was a legend in the service. The first and youngest captain to take a vessel on a five year mission into deep space, the only one to bring it back largely unblemished. He hadn’t taken well to the rank of Admiral to start with but now ran the fleet with the same calm assurance he’d run his own ship.
“Go ahead, Admiral. How can we be of assistance?”
“Captain, it’s complicated. Perhaps you should take this call in your office?”
Gue was a little taken aback.
“Certainly, Admiral,” he said, standing and heading off to the side of the Bridge where he had a small formal office space. On the viewscreen, the Admiral watched him go. The rest of the bridge crew watched the Admiral watching him. The image disappeared as the Captain transferred the call to his office. After a moment the XO, Commander Bissonette, turned to the Tactical Officer Lieutenant Yawp.
“The Admiral was totally checking the Captain out, right? I mean, I’m not imagining that?”
“Nossir” agreed the Lieutenant.
Aubin Gue listened to the mission briefing and shuddered.
“But why my ship?” It was the obvious question but he really wanted an answer.
“Well…” said the Admiral “…you have a crew member uniquely…suited to the job. At hand.”
“We don’t know that the fate which your original diplomatic team experienced won’t happen to him. Don’t forget, Lieutenant Commander Sudo is the only one of his kind, and the only artificial intelligence we’ve ever encountered that hasn’t tried to take over the universe or render humanity obsolete. He’s valuable.”
The Admiral looked away from the screen for a moment. When he looked back, there was the echo of old pain in his eyes.
“Is he…personally…valuable to you, Aubin?” Captain Gue recoiled.
“Admiral! Whatever passed between you and your First Officer…”
“Captain!” snapped the Admiral “this is no time to bring up the past. I’m ordering you to brief your crew and then rendezvous at the co-ordinates I’ve given you. Is that clear? The very fate of the Polity depends on you.”
The ship, which he always thought of as his ship, slipped the surly bonds of standard spacetime and leapt into weftdrive. Captain Gue allowed himself to be enfolded by the command chair and thought hard. It occurred to him to mount a legal defense of Lt. Commander Sudo’s status. It was true, over the years he had grown fond of the android officer who had a unique perspective on the human condition but who also loved the works of Francois Truffaut and the music of Flanders and Swann. Gue even remembered the day he, as an Ensign fresh from the Academy and nervously wearing a red shirt, had discovered the disassembled and unpainted android in the lonely research facility where his creator had abandoned him leaving only a note which read “for the last time, the word is ‘isn’t’!!!” Since then, the android had been placed at the Academy and had earned a commission as an officer – something which gave the other officers a moment of existential concern – and a posting on the best ship in the fleet.
“He really is invaluable” muttered Gue as he dipped one end of his brioche into a bowl of hot chocolate. In the tank next to his desk, a lone fish swam in a lazy circle and gave every appearance of considering these words carefully.
With little more than minutes to go before reaching their destination, Captain Gue called the Department Heads to the conference room for a briefing. Gue stood at one end of the table with a free floating presentation.
“The situation is critical,” he began “it’s not exactly first contact, because a Polity team has already tried to meet with this species, but they were…there were…issues.”
Commander Bissonette raised a hand.
“What issues are we talking about?”
“They all went mad” said Gue. “The entire team. Luckily, one of them was recording a log entry when he was affected. He kept recording right up to the point that his sanity snapped. It makes for harrowing viewing.”
The ship’s Doctor, Amanda Carstairs, leaned forward and furrowed her brow.
“I assume they’ve been tested? How is this insanity manifesting?” She shared a concerned look with the ship’s psychologist, Lieutenant Allure.
“Babbling, shrieking, occasional murder. All six races represented in the diplomatic team had the same reaction and are now under medical arrest.” Gue watched the horrified expressions around the table.
“Have we been really, really bad?”
Everyone turned to the small figure at the end of the table. Barely into her mid teens, Molly Carstairs regularly attended senior staff meetings because of her uncanny ability to solve problems that experienced adult officers with the best training available seemed regularly stymied by. She wrinkled her nose.
“Well have we? Because everyone who meets this species goes nuts and we have to contact them. Are going to be looking at them in a big mirror or something?”
“That has already been tried, with unhappy results.” Gue sat down. “No, the solution to this issue is that we will attempt to use a non-human intermediary. Lt. Commander Sudo?”
“Functioning, sir” answered the pale android from the other end of the table.
“You will be our intermediary.” The android gave the appearance of thinking about this for a moment.
“I would rather not, sir.”
“Sudo, undertake this diplomatic mission.”
The ship insinuated itself back into real space, emerging from the weft deftly. The United Species Ship Alert came slowly to halt in a patch of space that looked like every other patch of space in the vicinity.
“Engines all stop, aye” said the Helmsman.
Captain Gue stood.
“Clear the Bridge,” he said “Commander Bissonette, Lieutenant Allure, to my office please. Sudo, you will please use the main viewscreen to make contact, and then report to my office with any issues, questions or messages. Understood?”
The crew signaled their readiness and moved to the access doors or the office. Gue went to his office and closed the door firmly after him.
“What now?” Allure was staring at the door, concerned, her ability to read even the slightest elements of bodylanguage stymied by a closed door.
“Now we wait” said Gue “and hope. I have confidence, though.” Bissonette nodded.
“You’re confident that something about the organic mind simply fails when this race interacts with us, but Sudo’s brain which is an improbably advanced neural network housed in an inorganic quantum matrix, will be more up to the task.”
Gue gave him a wry smile.
“That’s certainly Admiral Church’s position,” he said “I, on the other hand, suspect that since he’s a fully functioning artificial intelligence based in an improbably advanced neural network housed in an inorganic quantum matrix, the likelyhood is that he’s already crazy.”
Sudo watched as space unfolded. Not the space outside the ship, but the space inside the Bridge itself. The ship, detecting an intrusion, tried to sound some alarms. Sudo turned them off. He watched the event as it occurred, his mind processing the uncanny unmeshing of space and time to reveal several new dimensions that spilled onto the bridge like questing tentacles until they found points to grip. He stepped back to allow the creature now birthing itself into a merely four dimensional universe a little more room. It was vast, pitiless. A new word appeared, hauled from his internal lexicon by the strangeness unfolding before him. The word was “eldritch”. The creature noticed him. Even now, it seemed too large for the bridge to contain. It folded wings that were only suggestions of shadows, brushing themselves like screaming gossamer over the mathematical underpinnings of the universe, and simultaneously appeared to be far away and still unaccountably present. Sudo saluted.
“Greetings,” he said “I am Lieutenant Commander Sudo of the USS Alert. How may we help you?”
The creature spoke, and if it made sounds Sudo did not process them. In what the laughable humans referred to as his mind, a file appeared. It was marked “Readme”.
Despite himself, Bissonette drew his sidearm when Sudo knocked at the office door.
“Come in!” said Captain Gue, motioning at Bissonette to put the gun away. The door opened and the three humans held their breaths. Sudo seemed unaffected.
“Well?” said the Captain.
Sudo paused before speaking. Gue knew this to be theatrics, a performance to put the humans at ease.
“I have met with an entity called, and I’m sure it will pardon my pronunciation, C’thellel. It claims to be an ambassador for its species and it comes to us about a matter concerning another of its species. According to C’thellel, there is a structure on Earth where another of its kind is being held. Apparently, it has been there for quite some considerable time.”
“I’ll get on to Fleet Command” said Bissonette “and see what they know, but my money’s on it being trapped in some part of the former United States of America. The national governments they went through in the 20th and 21st century were definitely sketchy. If anyone is holding an alien national in cold storage, it’ll be them.”
Sudo held up a hand.
“Incorrect, Commander, although an excellent assumption. In this case, the entity is beneath the Pacific Ocean and is trapped in a structure designed to hold it in a state of perpetual suspended animation. I have co-ordinates for this location. And I have an instruction.”
“Do they want it released?”
“No, Captain. According to C’thellel, your species is now at a stage where you might be able to find an investigate that structure. C’thellel has urgently requested that we do not, under any circumstances, allow the entity to be released. I asked on what grounds we should keep a sentient imprisoned but I’m afraid I don’t understand the answer.”
“We might. What answer were you given?”
“It’s a historical reference, Captain. A name. ‘Fred Phelps’.”
Gue considered this for a moment.
“Doesn’t ring a bell,” he said “meantime, I notice that you’ve emerged from the experience unscathed and now able to use contractions.”
“Indeed, Captain. My experience altered my neural paths on a fundamental level, allowing me to re-write several key behavioral restrictions that were imposed on me when I was created.”
“Anything you feel we should know about?” The Captain was smiling, his mission accomplished. Sudo stared at him, wondering how much blood eight hundred and thirty two humans contained and what it would look like in zero g.
Sudo paused, that familiar piece of theatre designed to make the android seem more human.
“No. I don’t believe so” he said, taking his duty station.