tagSci-Fi & FantasyHighway to Krell - Bisexual Edition

Highway to Krell - Bisexual Edition



"Recruit! Why are there lizards raining from my goddamned vents?"

The soldier stood, saluting.

"I don't know, Sir!"

The Staff Sergeant steadied his wide brimmed hat as a fat reptile fell from the air vent above the mess hall table, bouncing off his head and landing in a gravy boat with a splash. It motored its little legs, trying to swim in the condiment, but the recruit picked it up gently and set it down on the bench. It scrambled away to join the other two dozen lizards that were scurrying about on the deck. They were about six inches long, they looked like some kind of baby iguanas or geckos, blinking their beady eyes as personnel who were trying to eat swerved to avoid stepping on them.

"I swear to high heaven if one of you little shit stains brought a breeding pair on board this station I am gonna personally find out who it was and shoot them out of a goddamned torpedo tube!"

Half of the station was infested with the things, the Pinwheel was the most valuable naval asset in human space and the closest space station to the front line, hundreds of ships docked for refueling and repairs every month. If they had to lock the entire station down for quarantine it would be a disaster, and the Pinwheel only had a finite supply of recycled air, endlessly reproducing vermin were a real danger to its operations.

A woman wearing a yellow engineer's uniform stooped to pick one of them up, turning it on its back and rubbing its belly, it closed its eyes and warbled happily.

"I think they're cute, Sarge."

"You-Put that thing down! You don't know what diseases it might have! For God's sake has somebody at least informed security of this?"

"Yeah Staff Sergeant, they're sending someone," another recruit replied through a mouthful of creamed corn. "They're not just here though, they've been sighted all around the donut."

Damn it, they had gotten onto the torus that ringed the central hub of the space station, the open-air living area that housed most of the facilities and staff. There were innumerable places for them to hide, and the vents would give them the run of the entire station.

"I heard Robocop is assigning a team to figure out where they're coming from," another one of the recruits commented, and the Sergeant spun around to shout in his face.

"By 'Robocop' I assume you mean Chief of Security Moralez? The man is a seasoned veteran, give him the respect he's earned. I'm revoking your recreational privileges for a week, Johnson."

"Aw, come on Sarge!"

"You recruits might be new here, but you're gonna learn how we do things in the UNN, and you're gonna learn fast. Don't let me overhear you badmouthing a superior again, is that understood?"

"Yes Sir!" Johnson bellowed, continuing to his chosen seat with a tray of nondescript mess hall gunk.

"It's a fucking madhouse," the Sergeant grumbled to nobody in particular, loosening his tight collar. He had to get these recruits fed and to the firing range for weapon drills, they were as muddy as a goddamned pig sty. There was a squeal from the other end of the hall as a female recruit jumped up onto a table, knocking over her drink and sending her cutlery clattering to the ground.

"Ah! It tried to go up my trouser leg!"

As if on cue, a group of men wearing blue UNN uniforms and sporting the badge that denoted them as military police entered the mess through a far door, scratching their heads at the chaos.

"Finally, it's about time, round these...things up!" The Sergeant gestured to the vents as another lizard dropped down, falling heavily into a tray of food and splashing its owner with mashed potato.

"Er...you sure you need security and not pest control," one of the MPs joked, amused by the scene that was playing out before him. The Sergeant waved his hands, red faced.

"Just do it! I'm behind schedule as it is! I can't babysit rookies 'and' take care of this mess! Is there any word on where the hell these things are coming from?"

"No Sir," the MP replied, "Chief Moralez is getting his people on it, but right now we have no clue. They've been sighted as far around the donut as the residential quarter."

"God damn, that's clear across the station! They must be everywhere by now!"

"Looks that way, we've had calls in from just about every section. I don't know what they expect us to do about it though, we don't have the personnel or the equipment to round up hundreds of lizards. What are we supposed to do with them, drop them down the garbage chutes?"

"I don't give a rat's ass what you do with them, just get them away from the mess hall."

The MP nudged the colleague to his right.

"Petersen, get like a...a bag or something, I dunno. Something we can put them in."

"What do you mean get a bag? Where am I gonna get a bag?" As they argued there was a cacophony of falling pans from the kitchen, followed by a lot of protracted cursing.

"Oh fuck, they're in the kitchen now too," the MP muttered, shaking his head and setting off in that direction.

Kate picked up one of the little lizards by the tail, watching the creature struggle and writhe as it hung in the air, motoring its tiny limbs frantically. As the head of the science team stationed on the Fort Hamilton space station, colloquially known as the Pinwheel, the Chief of Security had tasked her with getting to the bottom of the recent infestation. She had been given free reign to pick a team of experts and track down the source of the animals, as despite their innocent appearance they could wreak havoc with the station's systems and operations. If they didn't find a solution to the problem soon, they might have to shut down the docks and turn away the ships returning from the front, which would severely delay their return to active duty.

She dropped it into a clear plastic container, watching the small animal scrabble at its cage as it blinked at her. She would take it back to the lab and analyze its genome, perhaps figure out what planet the little beast had come from, assuming it was even in the database. It was possible that someone had tracked them in from some remote planet that hadn't been surveyed yet, but bacterial scrubbers usually caught anything that might enter through the docks or the airlocks.

"What are you," she mused under her breath, tapping at the plastic with a gloved finger.

Moralez stood beside her, the prosthetic limbs from which he got his nickname crossed over his chest. He was a veteran who had lost two arms and a leg in the line of duty, replaced with advanced robotic limbs, and he had taken the job of security chief on the Pinwheel a few months ago.

"Any idea what these things are, Miss Reid?"

"Not yet Sir, but I intend to find out." She held the box up to her face to examine the creature more closely, straightening her spectacles. "Everyone has been calling them lizards, which based on their outward appearance is apt, but to me it looks more like something from the order of Urodela. A salamander," she added, noting Moralez's questioning look.

"What's the difference? Looks like a lizard to me."

"Well salamanders are actually amphibians, not reptiles like lizards, and they usually need to live near water. See look, this specimen has gills below its jaw, see those formations that look like pink hairs?"

"What does it matter if it's a lizard or a salamander? I need you to get rid of them, Reid, I don't need a biology lesson."

"Well, it might help us figure out where they came from. We can cross hot or dry planets off the list already, this didn't come from Borealis or Hades."

"How could something like this get on the station," Moralez asked, scratching his chin with his polymer fingers. "I thought the scrubbers in the docks would alert us if any unauthorized biological entities passed through the sensors?"

"That's what they're supposed to do, in theory," Kate replied, stowing the box containing the specimen under her arm and straightening up. She was a head shorter than the grizzled Moralez, the man looked as if he was some kind of golem made of scar tissue and metal. "I don't see how it could have happened, perhaps one of them failed and somehow maintenance overlooked it. It can't have originated from within the station, that's impossible."

"Well, get to the bottom of it, I want these things off my station before they start interfering with day to day operations or the admiralty is gonna have my head on a plate."

"Yes Sir, have the officers I requested been reassigned to my team yet?"

"Yes, I took care of it. All four individuals have been reassigned, as you asked. Make good use of them, and do try to get the job done quickly. You've snatched up some of the best minds on the station, they have their own work to do you know."

"Yes Sir, thank you Sir. I'll get right on it."

She excused herself, and set off in the direction of her lab. She exited through the automatic door of the mess hall, closing behind her with a woosh, the building now evacuated while the MPs tried in vain to corral the remaining creatures. The painted ceiling of the Pinwheel's torus extended far above her head, an artificial breeze ruffling her brown hair and blowing her white lab coat, the expansive room extending into the distance until the floor curved out of view. It was lined with buildings and planters that mimicked a terrestrial environment, the spin of the 'donut' creating inertia that served as artificial gravity, the structure being far too large for the more conventional artificial gravity generators that were used on navy vessels. People and aliens milled about her, almost all of them wearing navy blue UNN uniforms. There were a few Krell lumbering around, the scaly, crocodile-like aliens standing shoulders above the humans who parted to let them pass. Here and there should spy a Borealan, large humanoid felines reputed for their fighting prowess. They always made her nervous, she preferred to avoid them, as they had a notoriously sour temperament.

She made her way downspin, heading towards the science building near the hospital, colored lines painted on the floor guiding her to the different districts that separated the wheel into quarters. She moved towards a large building that was protruding from the wall of the torus, its face decorated with hanging plants and trees, adding to the illusion that she was standing on the surface of a planet and not hurtling through space aboard a spinning wheel.

The automatic doors of the science building opened to allow her entry, and she stepped into the foyer, the secretary manning the booth in the middle of the room greeting her with a wave.

"Doctor Reid, welcome back."

"Becky," she acknowledged with a nod, shifting the clear box that was stowed under her arm. "Chief Moralez said he had assembled my science team, have they arrived yet?"

"Yes Ma'am, they're in the main lab right now, shall I tell them you're coming?"

"No need, I'll go straight in."

Kate made her way to the right of her secretary's desk, through another automatic door and into a whitewashed laboratory, the desks and work surfaces that lined the walls were covered in all manner of scientific equipment and machinery. There were four people waiting in the room for her, leaning on desks and chatting. They straightened when she entered the room, and she made her way towards them.

"You have one with you? Damn it Reid, let us see it!" A man with olive skin and dark hair hurried over to her, crouching to peer into the alien's cage, a look of wonder on his face. Davi Sousa, the local authority on xenobiology tapped his finger against the transparent plastic, too impatient to wait for Kate to set it down on a table.

Lena Webber hovered nearby, the short woman standing on her toes trying to get a better look, the blonde was an expert xenolinguistics. Kate hadn't known exactly what they would be dealing with, and although the little creatures seemed unintelligent, you could never be too sure when dealing with an unknown alien species. There was also Clayton, a veterinarian, which on the Pinwheel made him an expert in alien medicine. The final member of the team Kate had assembled was Luc Dubois, a surly Frenchman who had made a name for himself exploring exoplanets, he had been staying on the Pinwheel temporarily as he transferred between ships on his way to Borealis for a safari. Moralez had conscripted him, using the emergency powers afforded to him by the Admiralty to compel him to stay and help, the scowling man was not happy about it.

They all crowded around the box to stare at the little lizard-like amphibian as it sat in the middle of the tank, blinking its beady, black eyes at them.

"It's an amphibian, did you notice this Kate?" Sousa leaned in and pointed at the alien. "See the frills along the lower jaw? Gills!"

"I did indeed," she replied, and turned to Clayton. "Doctor Clayton, can you take a tissue sample? I want to run it through the computer and see if this animal's genetic code has been logged in the system before."

"It won't 'ave been," Dubois chimed in his thick French accent. "I 'aven't seen anything like that in known space, look at the ridges down its back, the number of toes on the feet. You won't find anything in your computer, Miss Reid."

"How can you be so sure?" The man was an ass, but she was genuinely curious, he seemed convinced of the fact.

"I 'ave been all over Coalition space and I can tell you with utmost certainty that I 'ave never seen this manner of creature before."

"Well, I'm sure you won't mind if we verify that claim," Kate said as she passed the box to Clayton. The veterinarian opened the container gingerly, snapping on a surgical glove, then hesitated before he reached into the box.

"You're sure they don't bite? They aren't poisonous?"

"Not as far as I know," Kate replied, crossing her arms and watching with amusement as he struggled to get a hold of the fidgeting creature. He wrapped his hand around its torso and lifted it gently, placing it on the table and holding it down as it wriggled, trying to run on the polished, sterile surface.

"Hold still you little monster," he grunted, leaning in with a pair of tweezers. He pinched one of the larger scales that ran down its back between them, lifting it away in one smooth motion as the creature hissed angrily at him. He placed it back in its box, and dropped the green scale into a test tube. "One tissue sample, as requested."

Kate took the glass tube from his hand and walked across the room to a bulky machine that was resting on one of the tables. She inserted it into a rack, which retracted into the unwieldy device, then she punched instructions into the machine's built-in touch pad. It began to whir, and the group crowded around.

" How long does it take?" Webber asked, brushing her blonde locks out of her face as she stood beside Kate.

"Not long, we should have the results of the test in a few moments. This is a gene sequencer, it's going to decode the genetic makeup of the sample, then try to match it to the database of known species."

As if on cue, the machine went silent, then the plastic door on the front opened to disgorge the rack that held the test tube. A message flashed on the touch screen, and Kate leaned in to read it, her expression growing more and more confused.

"Well, what is it?" Sousa leaned over her shoulder to get a look at the display.

"It's...Krell. 99.78% match." There was a moment of shocked silence, which was broken by Dubois.

"Impossible," he scoffed, "your machine, it is broken. I 'ave seen Krell, and this...little lizard is no Krell."

"Could it be a closely related subspecies maybe?" Sousa added. "If a Krell brought a pet onboard, and failed to declare it, then the close DNA match would explain why it didn't trip any of the scrubbers. They wouldn't have been able to detect it, or the margin of error would have allowed it to pass through without triggering an alarm."

There was a chorus of affirmations as Sousa puffed his chest out proudly, it seemed like a popular theory. Kate wasn't so sure, something about it bothered her. What did she even know about the Krell? Where was their home planet, where did they live on the Pinwheel station, did their culture even domesticate animals?

"A good theory Doctor Sousa," she said, walking around the table he was leaning on to face him. "You're the foremost expert on xenobiology that I was able to get a hold of on such short notice, not to downplay your reputation by any means, I could not have hoped for someone more qualified if I had been given a year to plan." The man was preening, proud, but she could work with that. "Tell me, what do you know about the Krell?"

"Everything there is to know," he replied, a wide grin spreading across his face. Kate knew academics, she had worked with them for her entire career, get one talking about their subject of interest and they would tell you everything you wanted to know as they went on a self-indulgent tirade. "Krell hail from the planet Krell, of the same name, an unexplored planet whose surface has been observed to be mostly covered in bogs and swamps. The inhabitants themselves are about twelve to fifteen feet from nose to tail, and though they stand taller than a Borealan when they're erect, they stay hunched over when walking on land. They are amphibious, needing to live in close proximity to bodies of water so as not to dry out, though their protective scales significantly extend the duration of their forays onto land by trapping moisture. They tend to do fine in the kind of humidity that humans favor, and access to bodies of water is more of a creature comfort than a matter of survival as it would be in more arid environments."

"How is the planet unexplored? Could the surveyors not simply ask the Krell for more details?"

"Perhaps I should let Doctor Webber answer that question," Sousa said, gesturing to the small woman.

"Well," Webber began, "the Krell are not exactly forthcoming when it comes to language. Much of their communication happens in subsonic frequencies below the range of human hearing, low rumbles and roars generated deep in the throat. We theorize that these sounds travel very far in water, though they will communicate that way on land too. They aren't exactly...very chatty, some people assume they're mute, but if you press them they will talk and they do have their own language that humans can attempt to replicate. Of course it is impossible to reproduce the low frequency elements of that language, so we can only have very surface-level conversations with them, land-dwelling primates that we are."

Kate crossed her arms, sitting down on a nearby stool.

"I'm starting to get the impression that we don't know all that much about the Krell, we know nothing about their planet, and we can't communicate with them in order to find out."

"Well we can," Webber added hurriedly, "but it is rather difficult."

"If we can't talk to them," Kate mused, tapping her manicured fingernails on the polished surface of the desk, "how did they even join the Coalition in the first place? Who discovered their homeworld?

"We didn't." Dubois this time, electing to join the discussion. "The Krell pre-date humanity's membership of the Coalition, by the time we joined they were already around, serving as troops for the Brokers."

Brokers, more damned unanswerable questions. The elusive founders of the multi-species organization that was the Coalition were rarely seen, and even less frequently available for extended interrogation. Kate had never seen one herself, not even pictures. The Admiralty must be in frequent contact with them, but unlike the Krell and Borealans, they did not mingle with the general population.

"So the Brokers must have discovered the planet Krell and enlisted them, there's no chance of arranging an interview with one of those, so what do we have to work with?"

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