GALATIC CO-ORDINATES: 03-12-04-01
SUGGESTED SOUNDTRACK: Anything by Tchaikovsky.(see link at bottom of page)
‘…Of course this particular sub-territory of the empire isn’t without its peculiarities. Here we have, a rarity, in that there is no discernable native life across any of the sixty five planets. Now of course, if we discount the obvious no-go areas, your gas giants, your fringe planets, this still leaves us with at least a handful of what we regard as ‘Progeny-Zones”, now why is it that we have we no evidence of any recordable signs of life production, let alone conscious or sophisticated structures of civilization?’ Professor Zanflip, raised his eyebrows at the lecture hall. His skin felt heavy today as if weighed down.
A Fal-Tap in the front row raised her hand. Unknown to Professor Zanflip, this Fal-Tap’s name was Fenn, and she had quite enough of the orbit-sickness to listen to such an outdated lecture.
‘Is it because the Empire hasn’t found life here that it deems worthy of recording?’ she said breezily. She bared her teeth, showing the points.
‘Ah now, yes, good one Miss? Sorry Xiss? No…’ Professor Zanflip flustered.
‘Ms. Fenn. Professor,’ she said.
‘Yes, good joke there Ms. Fenn. As you know the Galactic Empire records all life in its databases. If none have been found here it must be for another reason.’
A human in the middle raised his hand. Fenn had always found humans strange, all fleshy and hairless. She shuddered.
‘This system is in the proximity of the Pollat Hole. Is it the wastage from there perhaps?’
‘Very, very good Mr Smath. I applaud your quick thinking.’ Professor Zanlip hit his flippers together in some semblance of a human round of applause. ‘It is indeed one of the most popular theories of recent times that the Pollat Hole’s wastage feeds back into the surrounding systems affecting it’s life production.’
Fenn sighed, ‘But the Taxla system is just by the hole- they are an ancient race? How come they haven’t been stunted by it?’
‘They are hardskins and anyway they say the hole was provoked by the Taxla themselves.’
‘Bollocks it was…’ Fenn said grumpily. ‘Unless they are older than their mooring star.’
‘Now, now, this is all academic. Please stay civil. This station isn’t world-sized – we must get along.’ Professor Zanflip raised a flipper. ‘Now, ah, I asked all of this to provoke some fiery essays – and it seems we will get them! Five thousand on the Progeny-Lack in System – 12-04. Due in 3 Orbits time.’ He looked to the front bench. ‘Miss Fenn – a word if I may?’
‘Yes of course Professor.’
The vast hall was emptying now; as the life forms shuffled and climbed out of their seat it revealed the open mouthed teeth of vacant seats. High above were arches in mock-marble render keeping in place the plex-glass. In front, behind the lecture podium was a huge window that looked out onto the swirling red planet below. Fenn waited as the Professor shuffled his papers into his bag.
‘Ms. Fenn I was wondering if I may talk to you about your essay.’ He waddled over to her and looked earnestly into her eyes.
‘Of course Professor.’
‘The university is keen to extend its knowledge of this area. 12-04 is a largely unknown. That’s why we moved here of course.’
Fenn remembered seeing it on the Pan-Galatic news. The University of Pure Sight was moving from its usual orbit around the Sister-Capital Ma1, to backwaters of the not even named 12-04. The discussion had gone on for months. The costs, the logistics, the point, all brought into question. But the university had stood firm and with the help of some Empire Warp-Drivers had settled into orbit around the red planet of 03-12. Fenn had watched wide-eyed at the endeavor, the risk and had applied. But now it seemed the Professors here were as conservative as the planet-bound schools. Professor Zanflip held out his flipper urging her to walk with him.
‘Do you intend to write about Species identification in the Empire Ms. Fenn?’
‘I may do – it seems to have sparked a debate in the lecture at least,’ she smiled. Outside the corridor had emptied; the students had rushed off to another lecture or back to the living quarters. The Professor stopped and looked her, his heavy brow dropped and his whiskers began to twitch.
‘I encourage you to do so. But please I ask you submit it to me personally. Not to the hard drive.’
‘But what should I upload then – the system will check I’ve submitted won’t it?’
‘I imagine it will – upload anything. Gas ethics or something boring. But the rest to me. Do you understand?’
‘Yeah – course. I can do that.’
‘Good good. Ah-ha.’ He looked up at the corridor info-point. ‘Is that the time? Post-Union Line-Theory awaits I’m afraid.’ He tapped his squat nose with his flipper and waddled off.
Fenn leant against the wall for moment watching the old Walran Professor until he was out of sight. What had he meant – give it to him personally? He was so against it in the lecture. She slicked her hair back over her ears and headed off.
It was standard mealtime in the dining hall and the place was a flurry of bodies and food. The nocturnals were rowdy – standard mealtime meant drinking time to them. They were off to bed soon. But for Fenn it was lunch. For a space-station the university did well – it’s vegetables were almost planet-standard and the grown meat was as good as anywhere. She pushed a piece a protein around her tray idling her head to the side.
‘What’s up with you?’ Ter was staring at her, xyr eyes narrowed into slits. Fenn had met Ter on her first day here. Xe was standing in the queue in front of her looking nervous. Fenn had never seen Ter’s race before, a Sonva she had learned later. They were humanoid in shape but thicker in stature with sky blue skin and deeply expressive faces. But when Fenn had said hello, xe had broken into a huge smile and xyr eyes had doubled in size. It seemed no one had spoken to xyr since xe arrived and xe was ecstatic to hear a voice. They had been firm friends ever since.
‘I dunno. Nothing I guess.’ Fenn pushed the tray to the side and rested her head on her claws.
‘Don’t lie to me Fenn. I know you enough now. You Fal-Taps are hard to read but I can tell.’ Xe said. Xe took her hand in hers.
‘I’ve been looking at planet categorization for my essay,’ she said.
‘Sounds boring,’ Ter smiled.
‘We can’t all do Six Quadrant Theatrics.’
‘Theatrical Arts I’ll have you know.’
‘Go on then brainbox what have you found?’ Xe laughed.
The nocturnals were shouting next to them. Some complicated game based around cards and figures and beams of light had got heated. A Noxon and a Fline were squawking at each other in their respective communications.
‘Shut up! Go to bed or wherever it is you do whatever!’ Ter shouted across. There was some squawking but they slunk off – an angry Sonva is a terrifying sight. ‘What did you find Fenn?’
‘It seems when the empire did their life sweeps here in the designations – they only did it once and left. Now protocol is once every ten standard units,’ Fenn was hissing her words. ‘Now this was centuries ago. Nothing since.’
‘But this is a fringe sector is it not? Maybe it was just that. Don’t let it worry you. You can’t keep the weight of the galaxy on your shoulders.’ Tev smiled again as xyr skin turned shades of royal blue.
Suddenly the dining hall ground to a hush. Through the doors at the end walked four humans. They were of some indiscriminate gender and all wore the formal clothes of the capitals. Fenn was always curious about their insistence on wearing a strip of fabric around the neck. They walked briskly and ignored the students. Everyone stared. Even the nocturnals had sat down.
‘It’s the new vice-chancellors,’ Ter whispered.
‘But they’re all human. I thought it had to be a cross-race board.’
‘I dunno. But that’s what I heard. Empire request.’
Fenn watched them exit into the office quarters. As she did, she flet a lightness pass through her body. She looked across, Ter was beneath her getting smaller. The noctunals at her side appeared to go from hovering to floating. She sighed. The gravity had gone.
They had floated down the corridor on the way down to the dorms. There was protocol – all of them knew it from basic training – head to your dorms and strap yourself into the concealed emergency unit. But there were people everywhere. Some of the bigger lifeforms were crashing down pushing people against the walls and roof. Fenn grabbed on to the roof-bars usually reserved for hand-movers.
‘Ter. Where are you?’ she said.
‘Right behind you.’ Ter’s round blue floated up from beneath.
‘Stay near me.’
‘What’s up?’ Ter span round with a huge grin. ‘It’ll just be a routine grav-check.’
‘It’s never happened before.’ Fenn let herself fall down from the roof a little as a cluster of fish-like Flounds fluted past.
‘Well we’ll go back to the dorm and then wait it out. Bit of power-out spirit. It’ll be fun.’ Ter wrapped xyr hand around the bar. Xe looked as the bar started to vibrate.
‘There –look,’ xe said. Fenn span her head round. At the end of the corridor were the humans from before. The vice-chancellors. Six of them, walking along the floor untouched by the lack of gravity. Each one was moving slowly and deliberately as if weighed down. They wore sophisticated external-helmets over their heads – the kind designed for racers and the army.
‘How are they walking – is that a human thing? Anti-grav?’ Ter stared.
‘No it isn’t. They’ve got those weight-shoe things. They’re like an individual gravity field. Just for a person. Trust humans to save the best equipment for themselves.’
‘Come on – let’s get back,’ Ter shouted.
They stomped by underneath them not looking up for a second. The lights started to flicker. At each flash, Fenn saw the humans move one step away. In the planet light they looked like ghosts walking along the bottom of the sea. Their heavy feet the only reminders that they exist in the world. The pair of them clung onto the bar, dodging a couple of nocturnals who were struggling with rapid changes in light. They were close by the humans again. Fenn looked again. There were six before. There was a flash of light. There were only five now. With a crackle of power, the lights along the corridor exploded.
‘Where did it go? Where?’ Fenn shouted.
‘Where did what go?’ Ter felt around and eventually touched the fur of Fenn’s face.
‘The human. One disappeared.’
‘Oh I don’t know. I never understand humans. Come on. We can still find the dorms if we’re careful.’
They turned a corner. It seemed quiet here. There were far fewer life forms. Fenn squinted at the sign at the entrance. It was the lecture unit. They moved slowly still clinging on tight to the bars. The planet light from the windows above was just making it through. Everything was bathed in an almost invisible redness – it was like being inside an artery. The blood cell life forms would bash past you, indifferent and purposeful as you tried desperately to make it to another part of the body. A Stenta with its wide fleshy wings swam past them seemingly unaffected by anything. It span around and flipped over. Fenn could see its regular body support had been turned off.
As they reached halfway down the corridor the bars started to vibrate again. Beneath them as if emerging out of the half-light were the humans. There were four of them now, Fenn counted. The back two had gone. The others walked on as if nothing had happened.
‘Do you think they even know?’ Fenn whispered.
‘That’s some high-end tech they’ve got there. They either know exactly what going on or its blocking everything out.’ Ter took Fenn’s hand in xyr’s. The door next to them was heaved open with grating slide. Through it floated Professor Zanflip.
‘Oh my goodness Professor. What is going on?’
‘Ms. Fenn is that you? Ah yes and erm…sorry. Oh my goodness.’ He floated close to to Ter’s face studying it over his perched glasses.
‘Ah yes Ter – you are a Sonva no?’
The Professor gripped Ter’s shoulders. ‘And what can you feel?’
‘Professor,’ Fenn said, floating away slightly. ‘What are doing?’
‘What can you feel?’ He shook Ter a little.
‘Fenn I’m sorry – we keep it hidden the Sonva… People they don’t like it. But I should have told you.’
‘What is it Ter?’ Fenn said. She could just see xyr face.
‘We can sort of tune into frequencies. Around others. It’s like how some life forms can see infrared or breath in water. We can tune into…Emotion I guess.
‘Right… like sympathy…Empathy?’ Fenn said.
‘Yes. But as an action. I can turn it on like a switch. Feel the mood in a room. Sonva have been hired… or enslaved, throughout history by politicians, armies…artists. To gauge reaction. To see into people. I should have told you.’
The Professor floated between them. ‘And what do you see now?’
‘Revenge.’ Ter Whispered.
They had bundled through into the main lecture hall. With the huge window, the light was a little brighter here and the benches could be made out. They looked like ridges on the back of a sleeping beast. They moored themselves to the front row and watched the planet below.
‘But what do we do now?’ Ter whispered.
‘We wait,’ the Professor said. ‘A technical fault on this scale the fringe authorities will have been alerted.’
‘We saw the humans… the vice-chancellors – they were heading somewhere.’ ‘To the escape pods I imagine. Down the lecture belt were they? One block over is their personal ships. That’s where they going.’ The Professor sighed.
‘Do you think it was them?’ Ter said.
‘Possibly. Although I doubt it – too much to lose in the Capital. Humans are against cross-species universities we know that but this… it doesn’t taste right.’
‘No, because the humans, there were more of them and then…’
From somewhere nearby there was a deafening crash. It lurched them out of their seats.
‘What the hell was that?’ Fenn reeled; she got up and smoothed her ears back.
‘It’s getting stronger,’ Ter said.
Fenn ran over to the door and peered through the window.
‘The lights have come back on – shall we go through?’
‘No. Come back here Ms. Fenn. What were you saying about the humans?’
‘There were six at first in their boots… and then as they went along there were five and then four.’
‘Oh dear…’ Professor Zanflip rubbed his head with his flipper.
The door opened and a hand grabbed the frame. A human – his helmet removed revealing his pink, fleshy head emerged through, his mouth open in a silent scream. It was as if an airlock was opened and he had shot out.
‘I think you were right Ms. Fenn. And all that good work you were doing – great work. You were right. I just wish we could’ve finished.’
‘What are talking about Professor?’ Fenn said. She ran over to him. His grey face was turned down in an image of defeat.
‘It truly would have made a great essay,’ he smiled sadly.
There was a rush of noise, the lights had gone again. Through the benches smoke was emerging. It coiled and swirled until it gained weight and depth. It folded upwards and further upwards until a length of black gas filled the room. It flicked out two arms and then with a painful wretch a head. Its face formed like the collapsing of building. Two depthless eyes and a scream of a mouth. Fenn, realizing what was going on, smiled meekly at the Professor. Ter, who stared up at it, had clearly worked it out too.
‘I’m sorry. We were on your side,’ the Professor said.
‘We really were.’
‘You need a new admissions policy,’ the life form said. ‘All I wanted was to learn.’
It swept forward and lunged into the glass. With a crack it shattered and the two students and the Professor were sucked out. They watched as the space-station University of Pure Sight began to fall to the planet below.