Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Encounter Intelligence

Another science fiction story from The Claw and the Eye:

The alien planet resembled an artificial garden, a fantasy, a play-place for children. Gize Kwejj stepped out of his pod onto the moist, dark-brown earth that sprouted a succulent, soft, green vegetable resembling human hair. He strode up the stone path, stepped over the little step and stood on the wooden platform that formed the front of the house. He tapped on the thin metal doorframe with the backs of his claws. The door itself was made of a sort of mesh: it was nearly transparent.

Another, more solid door fit into the same doorway, but it stood open. A human arrived in answer to his tapping. This was Becky’s house, but this wasn’t Becky. This human was as pale as Becky but younger, taller, thinner and male. His hair was so short that Gize could see the skin of his head. “Hello,” he said, with understandable suspicion.

“I require information,” Gize explained.

“Did you take my sister?” the human demanded. This was probably Jade’s brother, then.

“No,” he answered, truthfully enough.

“Do you know where she is?”

“Yes,” Gize replied. The human was holding the door closed, so he told him, “I will enter.”

“I can’t let you in,” said the human. “It’s not my house and I don’t have…” He stopped speaking once Gize was inside, and just stood there looking up at him.

Gize opened his Personal Device and accessed infrared detection. There were two other humans in the house, plus two smaller heat-sources. One was probably a coffeemaker. The other, Gize could not identify. He would continue monitoring.

“What kind of information are you looking for?” asked the human, still very afraid and trying not to show it.

They were in a small room with two open doorways, besides the door Gize had just come through. Before answering, he ducked through the doorway on the left, which led to a room with two perpendicular exterior walls. Then he asked, “Is Jade Massilon’s daughter in this house?”

“No,” the human lied, following cautiously, “she’s not here.”

The infrared signals of the other two humans had moved a little, so apparently they were awake.

They seemed to be together in the same room. The smaller signals hadn’t moved at all. “Does she live here?” Gize asked.

“No,” he lied again, then said. “Becky Sagamore lives here.”

“Is she well?”

“Becky?” said the human, pretending to misunderstand. “Yeah, she’s doing okay, I guess.”

“Is Geonily well?” Gize asked patiently.

“Yeah, well, she lost her mother,” the human answered honestly. “What can I say? I mean physically she’s not sick, but…”

“You are her uncle?”

“Yeah…” he said. “Yeah, I am.” He struggled to control his emotions.

“I did not order Jade’s capture,” Gize explained. “I cannot order her release.”

“Then who can?” asked the human, trying to hide his anger.

“My Kivv,” Gize replied, shaking his head.

The human did not understand this.

“The commander of my ship ordered Jade’s capture,” Gize tried again. “He will not release her until the planet is secure.”

“My sister can help you with security on your planet?” he asked, again pretending to misunderstand. There was something else showing in his face, too. Physical pain.

“Your sister will not be released soon,” Gize told him. “I cannot change that. My concern is the welfare of Geonily.”

“Me, too,” said the human earnestly. He was fidgeting, from the pain.

“I am Gize,”

“I’m Brooks,” the human answered, reaching toward Gize with his open right hand, in the traditional greeting gesture of his culture. “Sorry, I didn’t get your name.”

“Gize,” Gaizz repeated slowly, grasping the small, pale, fragile hand in his own right hand and participating in a repetitive vertical movement.

“Gize,” Brooks repeated. “I hope I can remember that.”

“You will not offend me if you do not,” Gize assured him, “and I will not stay here long. Does Geonily attend the Town school?”

“We’d—I’d rather not say,” said Brooks. Apparently, the answer was yes. “I need to get some food,” he announced, and without taking his eyes off Gize, started slowly toward a doorway on the other side of the room. Gize followed him, but not too closely. They were moving away from the two other humans, and toward one of the smaller heat-sources. Gize had guessed right: it was a coffeemaker.

There were many other things in that room as well. There was furniture that looked like desks, only lower, but had no stations. There were boxes of varying sizes. Two of the boxes had no tops and seemed to be made of metal, and had a pipe built over them: probably a water-source. There were shelves stacked with eating vessels similar to the ones in the cafeteria back on the ship.

Brooks walked stiffly to the largest box, opened a door and retrieved a bag from inside it. Steam escaped from the box, and according to Gize’ Personal Device, its interior was very cold. “So how’s Jade?” Brooks asked, setting the bag down on one of the desks. It crinkled.

“She is healthy,” Gize answered.

The human had one fist on either side of the bag, and was trying to pull it open.

“But she is anxious about her separation from Geonily,” Gize continued.

Brooks repositioned his fists on the bag and tried again. “I, um…” he began, then hesitated before continuing, “I need a knife. Can you tell me how she’s being treated?” Slowly, he turned and retrieved a small knife from a rack on one of the desks.

Gize grabbed the bag and clawed it open. “Yes.”

Brooks shrugged and put the knife back. “Thanks,” he said.

“We give her food, air, water and the opportunity for sleep, exercise and hygiene. She--”

“Sorry, exercise and what?” Brooks took a vessel from a shelf behind a small thudding door, and emptied the contents of the crinkling bag into it. It seemed to be a vegetable: lumpy and green.

“Hygiene,” Gize repeated. “Her room contains a modified shower.”

“Oh, hygiene,” said the human, pronouncing the word correctly as only a human can. “A modified shower, what does that mean?” He got a piece of shiny, transparent film from a box in the side of one of the desks, and covered the vessel with it.

“We modified it for air-breathers, so that she will not drown.”

“Oh!” said Brooks. He grabbed a fork from the side of a different desk and stabbed the film.

“Yeah, that’s important, I guess. What else? How’s the food? Do you know if she’s been able to find any Chuzekk food she likes? Can we send her any?” He put the fork back.

“It is unlikely,” Gize answered, “that she has found Chuzekk food that she likes. Our nutritional needs differ. She eats human food.”

“Human food, like what?” Brooks asked, opening yet another box and putting the vessel of cold green lumps in it. He closed the box and pushed on the front of it with one fragile finger. The box beeped once, paused, then began to whir.

Like bland white paste, thought Gize. “Like goatherd’s…” he began aloud, trying to remember the names of the dishes Jade chose, “cake? No, the word is ‘pie’. Goatherd’s pie.”

“Goatherd’s…” Brooks repeated thoughtfully. “Shepherd’s pie, maybe?”

“Yes,” Gize replied. “Shepherd’s pie…clam chowder.”

“Yum,” said Brooks. “So she’s healthy, then? She gets plenty of sleep? She’s warm enough? Does she have medical care?”


“Yes,” said Brooks, looking confused. “Yes to all of it? Yes to health? Yes to sleep? Yes to warmth? Yes to medical care?”

“Yes,” Gize answered again.

“Okay,” said the human, as though Gize were being difficult. “So, um, if you don’t mind my asking, who are you?”

The other non-human heat source had begun to move, and now it was coming toward them. It was slightly hotter than a human, but much smaller.

Brooks continued, “I mean, I know you’re Gize, but…is that your name? How do you know Jade? What’s your job, if that applies?”

The small heat source continued to approach. A wall still hid it from view, but at its current speed and direction, it would soon be in the same room where Gize stood. Quickly, he pulled a hand weapon from his waist and aimed it at the spot, low in one of the doorways, where the appearance of the heat source seemed most likely. “Gize is my name,” he explained as he did so. “My job title is…” The heat source appeared—a fuzzy quadruped of some sort--and when Gize saw it through the site of his weapon, he was tempted to put the weapon away, kneel on the floor and attempt to attract the creature. But his training told him to remain as he was, except for slight movements to keep the creature centered in the weapon’s firing line. Meanwhile, he continued his reply to Brooks without interruption. “…Telemetry Interpreter Support. I assist with interrogations.”

“You’ve never seen a cat before, have you?” asked Brooks.

“Yes,” Gize confirmed. The creature stopped walking and contemplated Gize with an expression he interpreted as surprise and curiosity. Then it continued to a small vessel on the floor and began to drink, using a complex movement of the tongue. The creature fascinated Gize. Despite its very different appearance, it had a grace, a poise, a fluidity of movement that almost mirrored the bearing of a water woman. It stopped drinking and glanced at Gize again, then at Brooks. The expression it bore as it did so, Gize would not soon forget. On a Chuzekk or even a human, that look would have meant tolerance and benevolent condescension. It was the look of one who was in the presence of lesser beings.

“Ellison,” said Brooks, stooping with difficulty, putting his hand near the floor and signaling the creature in what appeared to be a gesture-language. “Come on.”

The cat looked intently at Brooks’ hand, blinked, and turned away.

Brooks repeated the motion, at the same time making a short sucking noise with his mouth.

The smaller creature looked again, feinted toward the human, and turned away once more.

Gize put his weapon down on the desk in front of him, and kept his hand on top of it.

Brooks tried a third time to attract the cat. This time it went to him, stopped just out of reach, and sniffed the outstretched hand. After a pause, it rubbed the hand with its face, neck and shoulder, and began to make a soft vibrating sound, a sort of throaty, thrumming buzz. It allowed Brooks to pick it up, and lay in his arms, rubbing Brooks’ arm and making the sound. Brooks rubbed the cat in return.

Gize holstered his weapon. “What is the meaning of the vibrating sound?”

“Oh, that’s purring,” Brooks answered. “They do it when they’re happy, and sometimes maybe for other reasons.”

“May I touch?” asked Gize. This was not the correct phrasing in Aberikekk, but he didn’t know how to form the question properly. A direct object was required. A personal pronoun. But Gize didn’t know the sex of the creature, and he had read that in this culture it was an insult to call a male ‘she’ or a female ‘he’, and equally insulting to use the convenient neuter ‘it’ for a conscious being.

“Well,” Brooks replied, taking his time and apparently trying to think fast, “I guess that’s up to her.” He turned to give Gize and the cat better access to each other. “Gize, meet Ellison,” he said with a polite formality. “Ellison, meet Gize.”

Slowly and smoothly, Gize reached his right hand toward the two Earth creatures. The cat, still purring, reached out to him with her nose and sniffed his knuckle. She hesitated, apparently thinking. Her purring didn’t stop, but its pattern faltered. Then it continued at a faster tempo than before, and she rubbed her face against the knuckle she had sniffed. Gize rubbed her head.

Brooks smiled for the first time. It looked like Jade’s smile. “She likes you,” he said. He looked surprised and relieved. Apparently he valued the creature’s opinion.

The infrared signal of one of the humans in the other room had not moved for a few minutes now. Perhaps the human who emitted it had fallen asleep. The other signal now began to move toward the spot where Gize stood with Brooks and Ellison. Gize waited, rubbing Ellison and watching the human’s signal-indicator move on the screen of his Personal Device.

It was Becky: he recognized her from the intelligence pictures as soon as she appeared in the doorway. That meant that the other human—the one who seemed to be sleeping—must have been Geonily. Before arriving, he had planned to find the child and look at her himself. Now he had come to realize that this plan was both unrealistic and unwise. He hadn’t sufficiently appreciated the fear and suspicion his mere presence would arouse in the humans. He should have. Centuries of oppression had of course caused them to be confused about their liberation. And given the lies their oppressors were telling them even now about Chuzekk intentions, Gize should have expected this reaction.

Becky’s arrival startled Brooks. Ellison seemed to have been expecting her, but seemed to find Brooks’ reaction annoying.

Gize spoke without delay, to try to ease the tension. “I am Gize,” he said to Becky. He continued to rub Ellison, who quickly became calm again.

“My aunt, Becky,” said Brooks.

Becky gave Brooks a questioning look, but with minimal movement of her face and body. Perhaps she was hoping Gize wouldn’t notice it. Brooks shrugged slightly, and Becky approached.

“Hello, Becky,” said Gize. “Brooks asked who I am, what is my job and why I am here. If you wish, I will answer now.”

“That would be good,” Becky answered tensely. She was standing with them now, across one of the desks from Gize.

“My title is Telemetry Interpreter Support,” he repeated. “I assist with interrogations. The commander of my ship ordered Jade’s capture. He will not release her soon: I cannot change that. Jade is well, physically. But she worries about her daughter. I came here to learn whether Geonily is well, and whether I can help.”

“Well, to be honest with you, she’s having a hard time,” said Becky. “It’s her imagination, more than anything. She doesn’t know what’s going on with her mother, so she makes things up. She’s got all sorts of visions in her head. We do our best to help her, but we don’t know, either. We don’t have facts, we just have speculation. And even if we had facts, I’m not sure if she’d believe us or not. She really needs to hear from her mother.”

Gize shook his head. “My commander will not allow Jade to communicate with Earth. She has requested many times that he change this order. He refuses.”

No one spoke after that. The humans were deeply disappointed. Ellison continued her purring. Brooks turned his back to Gize and opened a door in the wall. There were shelves behind it, full of Earth-style drinking vessels, stacked up so precariously that some of them seemed in danger of falling. Brooks extricated an opaque blue one with a pattern on it, set it on the desk in front of himself and filled it with coffee. He turned to Gize. “Coffee, Gize?” he said, looking at his eyes. Pain, fear and calculation still showed in his face.

“Yes, please.”

Becky was behind Gize, standing next to the biggest box in the room—the cold box that had been the source of Brooks’ green lumps. The box had two doors, an upper and a lower one. Brooks had used the upper one to get his green lumps. Becky now opened the lower one. “What would you like to put in it?” she asked. “I have half-and-half, milk, non-dairy French vaniller…sugah rin the cubbad.”

Gize concentrated to understand her. ‘French’ he understood. ‘Vaniller’ he had never heard of. The last phrase, he realized after a moment, was “sugar in the cupboard.”
“No,” he replied, “Just coffee, thank you.”

“You like it black, then,” said Becky.

Brooks put the mug on the desk near Gize—not right in front of him, Gize noticed, only somewhat close. The human was afraid to risk touching him, then—or perhaps to risk offending him. He waited respectfully until Brooks had pulled his hand back, then picked up the vessel. The coffee inside wasn’t black: it was dark brown, like the coffee on the Kivv-ship.

Brooks removed an orange vessel from the crowded shelf and filled it with the hot liquid. He added two little shovelfuls of sugar and poured in some half-and-half. It was almost the way Jade prepared her coffee, only slightly less sugary.

“Cup,” said Gize, looking at the vessel and recalling its Aberikekk name. Some of its markings vaguely resembled the hair-like vegetable that covered the soil in front of the house. “What is this?” he asked, holding up the cup and indicating the markings with his claw.

“Grass,” Becky answered, but Brooks said, “firing glaze.”

In the pod on the way back to the Kivv-ship, Gize monitored his instruments carefully. He was a competent pilot and a better gunner, but he knew there was no substitute for preparation and alert observation. And the humans had found a way to detect even pods now, although their equipment needed to be aimed just right to be effective.

He reached an altitude of nearly 1728 units without incident, then the pod’s sensors detected a flare on the surface, probably a weapon launch. A moment later the weapon itself showed up on the sensors. He got it in the targeting sites, but the angle was wrong. If he shot it now, he’d hit whatever was below it on the planet, too. Somehow, he had to get the thing to come up beside him, and that wouldn’t be easy since it probably had him targeted, too.

He did his best to fly in a complex pattern. That was a challenge because his expertise was in guessing emotions from unconscious physiologic signs, and not in flying pods. His first task was to stay away from the weapon--chances were slim that it wouldn’t kill him if it hit. Pods were built to withstand attack to some extent, but by now the humans knew what kind of weapon was needed to penetrate their armor, and even they weren’t  so disorganized as to waste resources on ineffective projectiles. His second task was to lure the weapon to fly higher, then take his own pod into a dip that would put it and the weapon at roughly the same altitude.

Heart pounding, senses and reflexes quickened by the instinct to survive, his hands flew over the interior surfaces of the craft. Immediate course changes, frequent and sudden, bought him precious moments of life. Meanwhile, he also mapped out a route that should put the weapon where he needed it, assuming it cooperated.

Finally the thing was at nearly his own altitude, chasing him as he flew in a sub-orbital arc. This was his chance, but he needed to seize it quickly--it was gaining on him, fast.
With one clawstroke, he released the two waiting torpedoes and hoped.

No comments:

Post a Comment