SciFi Adventure and Romance.
Intrepid scientists solve puzzle of scaly aliens on two remote planets.
Meet the ATRAPAKO and their PLANET VKANI
The alien Atrapako inhabit the planet of Vkani in the outer fringes of the galaxy. Their planet was not discovered until recently since its sun is obscured by a dust cloud from much of the galaxy. Thousands of years ago, Atrapako civilization was destroyed when the planet suffered a catastrophe. The survivors changed. They developed a culture suitable for the environment on their planet, harsh, hostile and unforgiving.
Physically, the Atrapako are bulky humanoids because of the heavy gravity on their native planet. They are covered in thick scales with protective ridges down their noses and along the length of their torsos. They have crests of stiff spines and curved claws on their hands and feet. They rarely wear shoes and their toe claws click when they walk on hard surfaces.
The Atrapako have a rigid class system and their scales are colored according to their class. Blues are the dominating leaders. They scheme for power and expect instant obedience from the other classes.
THE PLANET OF VKANI
The continents on Vkani have arid deserts and rugged mountains. Sandstorms scour the dry lands and thunderstorms blast the mountains. The larger life forms are reptilian, such as the dragon lizards and pterodactyl-like flying predators described in Book 2 “Dragons of Vkani”. No life can survive in the lethal Deadlands.
Atrapako life is barbaric and ruled by the threat of attack by marauders or a major battle. There are few cities, full of miserable slums, because of the almost constant wars. High ranked Blues live in fortresses in the mountains or underground.
The history and origin of the Atrapako are probed in “Dragons of Vkani” when a human spaceship brings a mixed group of human scientists and Atrapako to rescue the relatives of the Atrapako on Eden.
The Lady is Blue
The girders of the hold were cracked and rusty and the surface plates creaked against each other. Sa Kamizan swore. His ship was shaking to pieces. He strode back to the control room, bracing for more bad news. The disease was spreading through his crew. He was desperate for a haven.
In the control room, the newly promoted science officer, Te Suzzaine, reported sighting a planet within the habitable zone of a nearby yellow star. It was their best hope. He ordered a course change towards the planet.
Next day, he sat in the navigator’s seat, listening to the emissions from the planet. The persistent series of rhythmic repeats must be a signal from intelligent life. He snarled in rage and tugged his crest hairs. The only sanctuary they had found was already inhabited. The alien natives must be dealt with.
“Respond to their signal,” he growled.
Report to Terran Space Authority from Lucy Stannis. The aliens land on Eden today. They are reluctant to answer many questions. I’ll try direct observation.
The huge, black spaceship descended slowly through the clouds. It dwarfed the small human shuttles escorting it to the ground. The landing field was so seldom used that grass was sprouting from cracks in the concrete. Lucy Stannis, covert Terran observer, sat alone, dangling her legs from the top of the perimeter barrier encircling the field. On her right, twenty feet below, she saw the official welcoming committee flanked by armed national guards. A vidicom crew recorded the scene from the opposite side of the perimeter wall.
The ship’s retroengines shrieked as it descended slowly. Two of the landing shuttles had tractor beams stabilizing the alien spacecraft. As they neared the ground, the ship rocked violently, tilting on one side. Tractor beams shot out from the other two landers and held the ship steady. The engines roared, and cut out suddenly as it dropped onto the grassy plain with a shuddering crash. Lucy stared at the black ship. Meteor scars pitted and discolored its metal surface. No shields, she thought.Their technology must be too primitive. Who would travel in space without deflector shields to ward off meteors and high energy cosmic particles? She trained her lenses expectantly on the side of the ship as it was sprayed with cooling water.
A hatch opened in the blackened surface and she held her breath as the tall figures marched out of the ship. The first two were uniformly red in color. They stepped aside and were followed by others colored blue and green. Lucy zoomed in on the nearest alien. It was coarsely humanoid, with reptilian scales and the head bore a raised crest of spines like a giant, upright lizard.
Everyone was excited. It was the most thrilling event in the history of Eden. The scientists were ecstatic, since no one had ever seen non-human intelligent beings. Lucy recalled tales of strange human variants, but none like the creatures from the black spaceship. There was so much to learn.
Meanwhile, the distant colorful figures were led away by the welcoming committee and the curious crowd dispersed from the perimeter wall. The hatch in the ship closed again. There might be many more aliens inside. How could she learn more about them? Lucy waved at the vidi crew on the opposite side of the perimeter. She climbed agilely down the concrete barrier, and raced across the cleared space to the reporters.
A few minutes later, Lucy walked towards the vidinews offices. One of the editors was a friend and might give her the latest reports on the aliens. The visit was more productive than she had hoped. The editor was interested in the scientific viewpoint and enthusiastically enrolled her as a special correspondent. She was given a coded button to permit entry to an exclusive conference with the aliens that evening.
“What do I wear to impress an alien?” Lucy reflected.
Later that evening, Dr. Lucy Stannis, Chief Scientist in Molecular Research at the Science Institute and temporary journalist, left her house on the outskirts of the city of Riverside. She wore a blue top closely matching the blue of some aliens’ scales. Blue was one of her favorite colors. Her long, dark hair was tied back with a blue ribbon, and she carried the coded button for entry to the meeting with the aliens. Her flitter bore her swiftly to the Cultural Center where the conference was to be held. The houses of the residential district gave way to the central shopping blocks where the streets were unusually crowded. Groups of people talked excitedly in street corners. Everyone was discussing the aliens.
The evening conference was scheduled for the aliens to meet important government officials and a select number of scientists. Lucy was glad of her unofficial status as reporter, since she had heard of agitated discussions and even fist fights among the top scientists for the chance to attend. All were eager to meet the aliens. Now she could sidestep the scientific selection, without directly antagonizing her colleagues.
The crowds grew thicker as she approached the tower of the Cultural Center. Fortunately, a passage was cleared to the entrance. Lucy realized from the comments she overheard that the aliens had just entered the building. She hastened up the stairway and was stopped by the guards at the top. The guards carefully scrutinized her code button before letting her enter. An attendant directed her to the conference room where the meeting was being held. Lucy ran down the corridor, skidding to a halt before the door to gather her breath.
The other reporters were gathered inside the door with coms in hand. Lucy slipped in to join them and turned to examine the other side of the room. The senior Governor, Mossy Fairweather, was making a welcoming speech. Lucy barely glanced at him. Her attention was focused on the bulky aliens. Her first impression, from the landing field, of humanoid figures, seemed less valid here where the aliens stood beside humans. The aliens exuded muscular strength and power beside the small and puny humans. Their reptilian scales gleamed like colored plates of armor. Their heads had two eyes and a central mouth. A spiky crest extended like a Mohawk haircut from a vertical ridge on their faces over the tops of their scaly heads, giving a bird-like effect. She would not have been surprised to see tails. Their feet were heavily scaled with dagger-like, hooked claws. They wore cloaks over short tunics of the same bright color as their scales. Royal blue scales and cloaks predominated, although there were also red, green and yellow scales. She wondered if they had different sexes.
The aliens stood very still and appeared to listen patiently to the speech. Afterwards, they were introduced to the human officials. Lucy recognized two of the senior scientists in the group that was being introduced. She was envious because they were able to talk to the aliens.
A friendly journalist explained the aliens called themselves “Atrapako”. Language translators had already been set up. The Atrapako in the room had already taken hypnolessons in the Eden language. The reporters only expected to interview the humans at this meeting. Lucy was disappointed, and wondered how she could get closer to the aliens.
After a while, she noticed that not all the Atrapako were talking with humans, some of them stood watching silently. She wanted to approach them, but was afraid of giving offense. Lucy decided on a lateral attack. Opposite the entrance was a glass door leading out onto a balcony overlooking the botanical garden. Lucy skirted the edges of the room, partly concealed by her short height, and skipped to the glass door in her excitement. She glanced back at the aliens and noted a big blue one staring in her direction. She hoped it was curious; she sent a challenging look, tossing her hair provocatively.
The door was propped ajar to let in the cool night breezes. Lucy pushed it open and walked over to the edge of the balcony. She leaned over the railing and waited, scarcely breathing in anticipation. It was dark below, but she could smell the fresh leaves and night blooming flowers. Her eyes had grown accustomed to the darkness when she heard a scraping sound behind her and the light from the open door was obscured briefly as someone passed through.
Lucy tensed in excitement. She hoped it was an alien.
“Why did you come out here?” said a precise, toneless voice.
Lucy swung around at the sound, and blinked in the bright light. The alien loomed as a dark shadow. The dark figure moved onto the balcony and she could see more clearly.
“I came to look at the gardens,” she replied, gesturing over the railing.
The alien walked over to stand beside her and stared out. Little was visible yet. The alien towered over Lucy. Definitely over six feet, she decided, and topped with another half foot of crest spines. It wore a dark blue tunic over blue scales. She checked the time quickly, then leaned over the railing again.
“Your eyes must be strong. I see little out there,” the alien said.
“Our second moon, Venus, will rise in a minute, and it will become brighter,” Lucy explained. “Why did you come out?”
“I wished to speak with an alien female,” was the odd reply.
“Oh, good,” said Lucy frankly. “I’m Doctor Lucy Stannis.”
“My name is Sa Kamizan Veedak,” he bowed slightly.
“You have the advantage of knowing more about my people than I do about yours,” Lucy commented wryly. “I don’t know if you are male or female.”
The horizon grew lighter, as they watched in silence. The white moon, Venus, rose into the sky, flooding the gardens with pale light. Soon the moon flowers would open in the gardens.
Lucy glanced at the alien to examine its face in the bright moonlight. Its eyes were sunk deeply on either side of the bony ridge leading to the raised crest of stiff hairs on top of the head. The mouth was a thin line. She was fascinated, because, in this dim light she could imagine it was a human face in an ugly mask. The eyes looked very human.
The scaled face stared down at her and it spoke, “Show me the garden and I will teach you of my people.”
Lucy looked over the balcony. It was about a ten foot drop to the ground. Not too far, for a short, athletic woman. The alien did not wait for her reply. It swung over the railing and leaped down with surprising ease for such a bulky body.
“Wait for me!” Lucy cried. She stooped, grasped the posts of the railing and lowered herself gingerly. She dropped awkwardly to the ground and stumbled, but the alien caught her elbow and steadied her. She felt the points of its claws through the thin material of her sleeves. Interesting, Lucy thought. The alien had reached out to help her.
“Is it wrong to walk in the garden?” the alien asked.
“It is unusual at this time of night. But the garden is beautiful in the moonlight,” Lucy responded.
“Show me,” the alien commanded.
Lucy led the alien along a narrow path between flower beds where they could watch the moon flowers open large white petals and the gray moths fly in to feed. Meanwhile, Lucy learned about the Atrapako. She learned that Sa Kamizan Veedak was a mature male. He was to be called Sa Kamizan in public and Veedak only in private by close friends. He offered to introduce her to a female for comparison. Their home planet was hot and arid with harsh winds. He was pleased to find such a fertile planet with much water and lush vegetation.
They walked to a fountain near the center of the garden and the alien stooped to peer at the fish swimming among the water lilies. Lucy would not have been surprised if he had scooped up a fish and eaten it. He was very curious about the fountain and the fish, staring as if he could not understand its purpose.
Lucy asked, “What, in your opinion, is the chief difference between your people and mine?”
“You mean, besides the obvious external differences?” he said.
“Your people are more emotional. Atrapako are logical and do only what is rational,” was his reply.
“I suppose it was rational to walk in the gardens with me,” she said ruefully.
“It was a good opportunity to learn more about humans,” he replied.
“Oh! I wasted my time showing you the beautiful flowers and moths,” Lucy retorted indignantly.
“No,” he said softly. “Your planet is lovely. I am glad to see such beauty.”
Lucy ran her hand though the water. She resented being called emotional. She stretched to the central spout and directed a stream of fountain water towards the alien. It hit him and he jumped back with crest flaring high. An alarm reaction, Lucy presumed.
“Why did you do that?” There was a trace of surprise in his flat voice.
“To see how you would react,” she replied calmly.
He made a strange choking noise and tried to splash her.
“Are you laughing?” she asked, as she dodged the spray of water.
“Yes! Do you wish to be wet?”
Lucy laughed. “I don’t mind. It’s a warm night. But, we’ll look silly walking back into the meeting dripping with water.”
“It is cold for me,” said Sa Kamizan with a slight shiver.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” Lucy said. “I shouldn’t have dragged you out here and the water will make you colder.”
He laughed again and said coolly, “You would find it difficult to drag me anywhere.”
They walked on. Lucy was elated; she had met an alien.
They talked less as they approached the building. Lucy felt embarrassed and unsure of her strange companion. He strode lightly beside her. The claws on his bare feet clicked against the stones of the path.
They rounded a corner, and the alien said quietly. “Someone is hiding in the bushes ahead.”
Lucy saw a movement among the shrubs. She stepped forward and called boldly, “Come out here, or I will call the guards!” It was better to be safe, although she suspected there was no danger.
There was silence. Then, branches rustled as someone descended from the bushes. Lucy felt reassured by the presence of the large Atrapako at her side. A young boy appeared on the side of the path.
“Come here,” Lucy said. “We won’t harm you.” On this encouragement the boy advanced hesitantly. His eyes were fixed on the alien.
“What is your name, and what are you doing here?” Lucy asked.
The boy stared up with wide eyes. “I’m Sammy Lee,” he said. “I was only looking. They dared me.”
“Is anyone else inside the fence, Sammy?” said Lucy.
“No. They’re too scared,” Sammy said proudly.
Lucy glanced up at the alien who had remained silent during this exchange. “Sa Kamizan, let me introduce Sammy Lee, who has climbed a twelve foot fence to see an alien.”
He flashed a glance at her, and turned to the boy. “Hello Sammy. I am pleased to meet you,” he spoke in the typical toneless voice and then showed his pointed teeth.
“Wow!” gasped Sammy. He ran off into the darkness.
Lucy choked back a laugh as the scaled face turned to her and asked, “Did I scare the boy?”
“Not very much.” She added helpfully, “It’s your teeth. They make you look aggressive.”
“Oh. I thought humans greeted each other that way,” he said.
Lucy tried not to laugh again. Was he trying to smile? “You should not show all your teeth if you intend to be friendly.”
“Good,” he said. “I was confused. Normally, this would mean I was angry.” He bared a fine set of pointed white teeth.
Lucy leaned closer, peering at his sharp teeth. She would have liked to examine the unfamiliar dentition more closely. “It is a sign of aggression among humans too,” she said. “I know it can be difficult to interpret facial expressions.”
“Especially for an alien,” he added.
They were now near the building and Lucy realized that their private conversation must end soon. “I wish I could speak your language as well as you speak mine,” she said wistfully.
“The hypnotranslator is set up in our offices in the Conference Center. Tell them I sent you to learn our language, Kavkani,” he offered.
They reached the building, and Lucy led the way in by a side door. Soon they would reach the meeting room.
Lucy turned to her companion. “Forgive my impertinence,” she said politely. “How may I distinguish you from other Atrapako?”
“You wish to know me again?” his eyes twinkled. “I am a Blue, and look here,” he pointed to a jagged line in the scales on one side of his face. “My enemies call me Scarface.” He showed his teeth. “The scar will distinguish me.”
He looked at her gravely for a minute. “What are your distinguishing marks, Dr. Lucy Stannis?”
Lucy blushed at the question. “Well,” she began slowly, “I am a short female with long, dark hair. Most of my scars are hidden by clothes. My eyes are blue.” She stared at his eyes curiously, “Oh, your eyes are very blue. I’ve never seen such an intense color.” She paused, recalling it was bad manners to stare at a stranger, never mind an alien. “I think people usually remember the relative size and shape of the nose, mouth and eyes in a human face.”
He stepped back and ran his eyes over her face and figure. “I shall remember. You can show me your scars another time.” Then, he turned away and strode towards the door to the meeting room.
Lucy paused, puzzled by his words. What did he mean? She ran after Sa Kamizan, keeping just behind him, in deference, or apparent deference, she was unsure which. He walked in openly, while she slipped inside and quickly joined a group of humans.
Lucy found herself in a group of scientists. They didn’t comment on her surreptitious entrance and might not have noticed. She knew one of them and was able to enter the conversation. Soon, she was introduced to another alien, a female scientist. Although, Te Suzzaine was clearly intelligent, Lucy found it more commonplace talking with her than with Sa Kamizan. Te Suzzaine had a slighter build than the male and sported shiny green scales and a fine, fringed green crest. Her voice was colorless. Lucy mentally noted this common alien feature. They were discussing the more esoteric fringes of physics when Lucy realized that the room was growing less crowded.
A tall, blue alien came to stand next to Te Suzzaine. “Come, Te Suzzaine. It is over.”
Lucy recognized Sa Kamizan by his scar. He was watching her, not Te Suzzaine. She could have sworn he winked. She was astonished by such a human gesture.
Sa Kamizan said, “Goodnight, Dr. Stannis.” He tilted his head slightly.
“Goodnight, Sa Kamizan,” she replied, while resisting the temptation to make a rude response. Why did she feel provoked?
The aliens walked away as Lucy watched. Sa Kamizan Veedak’s clawed fingers clenched and loosened repeatedly behind his back. Lucy felt exhausted by so many new impressions. She did not know which were important. That alien, Sa Kamizan, had seemed amused by her. He was quite clever enough to deliberately mislead her. Why was she suspicious of his motives?