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Distant Origins: An Anki Legacies Science Fantasy for Young Adults By S Shane Thomas Characters: 42230

Updated: 2018-01-25 12:04


It's nice looking back on my first alien encounter. My husband and I were near the cusp between youth and adulthood. If I were a human girl, I suppose I would have been a tween. Enough about me for now; I'm here to tell you about humanity's first contact with other sentient species, their first colony off Earth, and about nine distinct species forming a new society amid the ruins of an ancient race; a race I am a part of. What parts of the story I don't personally recollect, I had the privilege of experiencing telepathically from the others. No, I didn't pry, my fellow colonists gladly shared their point of view for the sake of preserving the history of humanity's Distant Origins.

"Over there, " Javier Mendez reached over the pilot's shoulder to point out her viewport to a sparse bit of brush a couple miles off from what appeared to be a farm. The man, in his late fifties, would once have considered himself a Mexican American. Now, he supposed they were all just human, especially since the beings who inhabited that farm certainly were not human.

"I'll bring it in so that the shrubs conceal the ship, while you guys poke around." Christa Lindoff smiled up at Javier, who had been like a father to her in the years since she lost her own parents in a shuttle crash while mining in an asteroid belt. Her brow furrowed in concentration as she masterfully guided the small spacecraft to its destination. She tucked a strand of golden blonde hair back behind an ear on her heart shaped face.

"I've got to get a look at the biological life around that settlement, " said a gruff, yet good natured voice. It belonged to the scouting party's biologist Dr. Elroy Lancett. He smiled from beneath a thick red beard, accentuated by his bald forehead and close cropped hair above his ears and neck. A burly athletic frame hinted at the scientist's second passion, Jui Jitsu. "Javier and Simon, you two come with me. We'll do a bit of poking around."

Javier nodded his agreement and made a quick inventory of his field pack. He kept the pack in much the same condition as he had back on Earth, as a youth fighting in the American wars against Iraq and later the terrorists in Afghanistan.

Simon Urlitz, nodded a head of close cropped, sandy blonde hair. He placed an unwanted pair of hands on Christa's shoulders and peered past her through the brush outside the shuttle. Simon felt her cringe under his touch. She'll warm up to me, he thought, before standing upright and reaching into the gun locker. He holstered his Colonial Security Force pistol and checked for extra clips on a belt before clasping it around his waist. The short, thickly built man scowled unconsciously at the thought of dealing with strange primitive farmers.

"You know Dr. Lancet, it's not too late to set this shuttle down just outside that city we saw from orbit. I don't see why we chose to make first contact with some back water hayseeds. We ought to confront their leaders, " Simon said. He pulled his CSF coat on and scowled.

"Okay Simon, we know you are ready for some action after spending the last couple decades on the beat in our little colony, but leadership wants us to approach these beings with caution." Dr. Lancett put an arm around the man, an attempt to placate. The security officer looked ready for a fight.

The rear hatch of the shuttle opened. Simon, Javier, and Dr. Lancett all gasped in awe. Javier enhaled the first breath of natural air drawn since their mothership, the LARC1 colony had departed Earth twenty five years ago. He shielded his face as his eyes adjusted to the bright natural light. Dr. Lancett's attention immediately drew to the shrubs surrounding their shuttle. Javier commented about the expert landing Christa had achieved. They would likely need to tramp through the brush to gain access to the wilderness beyond. The locals would not spot the craft from ground level.

As the three men began to negotiate the brush, another pair of figures emerged on the ramp and drew in the fresh air.

"Simon! Keep your communicator handy. Shelly and I are going straight to the farm. We are going to attempt communication with the natives." The man, also garbed in Colonial Security Force attire and pistol, called out. He stood a head taller than Simon, and where the brash officer looked thickly built and olive skinned, Travis Dershell looked fair skinned with black hair. His lean frame revealed a swimmers build.

Simon grunted an affirmative reply before the trio disappeared in the brush.

"Well, looks like we get the honor of first contact, " said Shelly Crispin, the mission's linguist. A slight woman with brown bangs over black rimmed glasses.

"I'm excited to be here with you." Travis grinned. He had called out every favor owed to him in order to arrange his assignment as security on this mission. Smart girls weren't usually his type, but ever since his chance meeting with Shelly last month, Travis became smitten.

"Great! Imagine being the first humans to speak to sentient life." Shelly felt inwardly more excited over the possibility of learning a new language, than of the encounter with the being that used it.

Shelly and Travis made their way through the brush and began the trek to the farm house they had seen during their approach. Travis made a few attempts at small talk, but Shelly, fixated upon the assignment, gave only short responses. When they reached the settlement both paused before a pen of grazing animals that could have been a wild boar's larger cousin.

The house, barn, shed, pens, and silo formed a courtyard configuration. The central enclosure smelled of hay, manure, and occasionally a fresh breeze. Cart tracks, animal prints, and boot prints bore the evidence of traffic in the muddy terrain.

"Look here, " Travis pointed to the ground. "These boot prints look nearly human, except they seem to be trailed by something obscuring the centerline."

"A tail."

"That's a good guess."

Just then Travis felt Shelly's tug on his sleeve and his gaze tracked up. Before him, two golden Pneuma children flitted about, engaged in play. Our arms and legs were short, while our necks and tails gave us a serpentine look. Our heads dove about as we chased one another, diamond shaped with glassy black eyes and a dart lined mouth. As we moved, Travis saw that our tails did most of the work balancing. Rough woven tunics and breeches covered our frames in drab, faded blues, yellows, and reds. Elsaap and I were so wrapped up in play, we didn't notice the strange pink, hairy, short necked, tail-less visitors.

The sound of metal scraping into dirt broke their concentration. Shelly gasped in surprise. She and Travis spun about and stood face to face with a pair of steely blue figures. Aside from their difference in skin color, these two were nearly twice the height of the golden pair. Overalls atop faded tunics garbed both farmhands. One held a pitchfork and the other a spade. The creature with the spade slashed its tail back and forth like a cat who had cornered an injured bird.

"Hello, " Shelly said with a smile. She extended both hands, palms facing the pair, fingers splayed. "We have come from another world. Can you understand me?"

One creature darted its wedge shaped head to within inches of Shelly's face, stared through beady eyes for a solid minute, and withdrew. A moment later the pair turned heads toward one another and began speaking in a low hiss.

Shelly leaned in and focused upon the conversation. Her mind running through every language pattern she knew, then cataloguing the sounds and body language to memory. As the creatures continued their conversation, Shelly began to have an odd moment of recognition.

"Sumerian."

"What?" Travis cocked an eyebrow. "Are you able to understand them?"

"I think that Sumerian could be used as a root tongue to what they are speaking. Like Latin is to Spanish. I just can't believe it. The likelihood of discovering a species with spoken communication is small, an anatomical improbability. The fact that I could likely communicate basic ideas today would be impossible if there weren't some shared ancestry between us."

"Atlantis came from somewhere, " Travis replied. The fabled lost city of Atlantis had indeed been discovered by humanity nearly fifty years ago. It proved more than the sunken ruins of an advanced civilization, it had once been a colonial starship. The world's corporations and governments pooled resources to form the League of Atlantis Reborn Colonies or LARC. They reverse engineered the technologies Atlantis revealed to create the LARC1 colonial starship that Shelly, Travis, Christa, Javier, Simon, and Dr. Lancett had lived on for the past twenty five years en route.

"I'm going to try speaking with them." Shelly waved a hand to gain their attention, and in Sumerian said, "We have traveled for years through the stars to meet you."

The pair recoiled and the creature holding the pitchfork let out a low hiss. Their heads nearly entwined around one another and they whispered feverishly for a moment. One creature dropped its spade, bent its chest nearly parallel to the ground and dashed away from the farm. As it ran, its tail wove from side to side providing counterbalance.

"Welcome travelers, " the remaining creature said in Sumerian. "What purpose do you have to bring such an honor to our humble farm?"

Travis had a creeping suspicion about the runner. He ran a hand through his black hair as he thought. It ran away from the farm. Shelly had begun a conversation with the remaining creature, one which sounded like total jibberish to the CSF officer. His gaze wandered back toward the two golden adolescents. Our play had drawn us close enough to take notice of the visitors and we tried to spy upon our elder and Shelly's conversation.

******

Meanwhile, in the wilderness outside the farm, three of the human explorers taught themselves how to hunt. I'm glad Travis was with Shelly instead of Simon or this story might not have happened.

"Shhh…" Javier motioned for Dr. Lancett and Simon to crouch. "Do you see that?" He pointed at a small group of furry creatures whose bodies coiled about tree branches. They were nothing but tail from the belly down, which twined nicely around branches and allowed their long thin arms to pick at fruit and leaves. There were at least a dozen in the tree closest the men.

"Let's catch one, " Dr. Lancett urged. "I would love to study these things back at the lab."

Simon pointed to a clip of tranquilizer darts on his gun belt and cocked an eyebrow.

"No need, " Javier said. "Let's try this first." The man, who had spent his years on Earth after military service as an animal tracker and wilderness survival expert produced a large canvas bag and quietly gathered fruit into it. Then he crept closer to the animals and tied two corners so it made a little cave. He returned to Simon and Lancett and the three waited for five minutes until curiosity won out over caution and several creatures entered the bag. Javier leapt upon the open end of the bag and cinched it closed.

"Excellent work Javier!" Dr. Lancett beamed.

"Shhh…" Simon cocked an ear up and listened.

Then all three men heard voices. Strange hissing words, not the American English spoken among the LARC colonists, something the men had never heard before. A second later a pair of eel-like beings on short limbs entered the far side of the clearing carrying long poles with small rope loops at their end. The steel blue skinned beings spotted the three men and froze in place.

Javier advanced slowly with the bag held out in front of him. The animals inside chittered and moved about, giving the bag a lumpy swing. One of the creatures took nervous steps forward to meet Javier and peeked inside before cracking what Javier thought to be a smile.

Dr. Lancett approached with his slate in hand. He smiled at the pair of hunters while his device took a bioscan. The curious creature turned away from the bag and looked at the slate's display. Its black eyes shifted from the slate to Dr. Lancett's thick red beard and back a half dozen times. Then its face darted forth on its serpentine neck until only inches from Dr. Lancett's face. Slowly a hand extended to meet and then pass its diamond shaped blue head, then gently grasped hair on the biologist's chin.

Lancett's curious smiled burst into a chuckle. It startled his observer at first, then it hissed out what Lancett thought to be a breathy giggle. A beep on the slate drew everyone's attention.

"Not only do our little friends show immunity to our pathogens, they appear to be completely disease free, " Dr. Lancett said.

"Great, no space plague from these backwater peasants." Simon laughed at his own joke.

******

Elsaap and I wondered where these strange people came from. After studying Earth history in the colony and learning of evolution, I was surprised to learn that humans only figured out they were related to primates within the last three hundred years. One look at these people and I could tell there was something in common. On a side note, Elsaap and I were shocked to learn that eels had never attained sentience on Earth. Clearly the species had gone further on Haran, producing the Pneuma. I digress…

"Well look what the cat dragged in, " Travis grinned.

"I came bearing gifts, " Javier replied. He nodded his head at the squirming bag. The long necked hunter took his bundle to a back room and motioned for Dr. Lancet, Simon, and Javier to remain where they stood.

"Are there more like you around here?" asked the being Shelly had been practicing Sumerian with. Its tilted head bobbed and pointed at each human as if taking a tally.

Shelly turned and addressed her party. "They call their kind Pneuma. A king rules the entire population from a half day's walk away. My new acquaintance Vrilech asked if there were any more humans nearby."

"Don't mention Christa or the shuttle, " Javier cautioned.

"I don't trust these eel men, " Simon said through a scowl. "Where did that other guy run off to earlier? I didn't see him around the farm when we got here."

"Vrilech mentioned that we need to stay here and share a meal. It should be ready soon."

The men paced about the room, which appeared to be a dining hall large enough to seat twenty. Over the course of an hour, eight Pneuma adults, Elsaap, and I joined Vrilech and the humans. Shelly spoke the entire time, pausing only to jot notes hastily on her slate. The device fascinated the Pneuma, and Dr. Lancett taught Elsaap and me how to play a few of the games on his own slate.

When the Pneuma hosts laid out the meal, Dr. Lancett asked Shelly to excuse him to their hosts and scanned the meal with his slate. "Alright people, these dishes are fit for human consumption. I suggest we return to the colony on full bellies. I don't know about you guys, but I smell a roast and can't recall the last time meat was on the table!"

The group tucked in without a second thought. As they ate, the natural light outside took on the faint bright glow of twilight. The dusky star began to set below the horizon on the world called Haran. Simple nods followed attempts by the humans to offer their compliments and appreciation for the meal.

As the scouting party finished their final bites, the farm hand and the hunter, who had run off at first sight of the humans, burst into the hall. They heaved in ragged breaths and began hurriedly discussing something with the Pneuma diners in breathy whispers.

"Can you make out any of that?" Javier whispered to Shelly.

"King's men… outsiders…stars…" Shelly considered it. "I think these two ran to the city to bring representatives from the government."

"I need everyone to calmly stand up and we'll stand together over there, " Simon nodded his head toward an empty space near a side door.

As the group converged around the spot, the entry doors burst wide open and a dozen guards armed in plate metal and chain mail filed in, barring exit. The farm Pneuma all slowly rose and bowed their heads toward the soldiers. They lined the wall opposite the humans, save for Elsaap and I, who stole away out the side door behind the humans.

"You outsiders have contaminated this farm with your presence, " hissed the guard at the head of their formation. The golden cords around one shoulder indicated his leadership.

"We have come to explore, from another world, that circles another star, " Shelly said. She walked toward the guard with her hands outstretched. "We seek only friendship and would like to discuss sharing your world."

The Pneuma captain blurred into movement as Shelly reached striking distance. White spots burst in her vision along with a dull thud. A second thud alerted Shelly that she lay on the floor with the Pneuma's foot on her belly. She choked back a cry mixed with pain and astonishment.

When Simon saw the lead Pneuma spin about and strike Shelly with its powerful tail his hand bolted to his holster without thought. Three shots rang out in quick succession, the first grazed the Pneuma captain's forehead, the next two buried into his chest through his armor. Blood spattered on Shelly as the creature fell back into its comrades.

Of all the mistakes I later saw Simon make, I've concluded that this was not among them. These soldiers were the King's death squad. The rash man's actions ended up saving my life and the lives of all the humans in that group.

Shelly watched, frozen to her spot on the floor, as a Pneuma guard lunged forward and fire burst from his mouth in a thin stream, searing the flesh of Simon's leg. He jumped at the attacker and the two tumbled out into the courtyard.

Travis jumped over Shelly and kicked into the chest of an advancing guard. The guard fell back into his mates, even as they recovered from their captain's impact. A spear lunged at Travis from his side, tearing his coat and slashing his arm beneath.

Dr. Lancett spent his early morning hours training in the art of Jui Jitsu and a fighter's instinct surged as he began to disarm and grapple the guard who had slashed Travis. The spear clattered to the wood planks, now spotted with human and Pneuma blood. Dr. Lancett's burly arm cinched around the guard's long neck. He struggled and clawed desperately but the expertly executed standing guillotine starved the guard of blood flow to the brain in moments. Dr. Lancett released his hold and pushed the limp form into a corner. Relief washed over him when the unconscious man drew a breath. He felt thankful the sleeper hold had the same effect on this species as it did on humans. Without hesitation, Dr. Lancett leapt upon another Pneuma guard and snaked a powerful arm around his neck.

Javier froze only an instant after Simon's counter strike, but that caused him to be the last man into action. Shelly looked well shielded with Travis and Lancett pushing the guards back. Simon had rolled right out the front door, tangled with a guard and three more surged out after them. Javier's combat training emerged from the depths of his subconscious and instinct drove him to protect the rash officer. He ran for the door, scooped up a spear without breaking stride, and swept the legs out from under a guard just before the Pneuma had time to stab Simon through the back.

Shelly slowly attempted to gain her feet. She felt my small hands on her arms and looked into Elsaap's small golden face, which wore an anxious expression. She saw her four team mates tangled into combat. She could not help in a fight, her strength lay in communication. Perhaps talking to us could provide a nonviolent solution. She let us guide her out a side door.

In a shed on the outskirts of the farm Shelly, Elsaap, and I huddled in shadow. While the look of the Pneuma lacked the familiarity of human features, Shelly noted through observation of our body language that we looked frightened.

"Why have the guards come? Why did they strike me?"

"King stops change… star-men bring change… change can…Pneuma…Anki…"

Shelly pushed her glasses back up her nose and her brows scrunched under her brown bangs. Not entirely absorbing the explanation for the conflict, she had deduced that this culture did not welcome new ideas or new visitors. She no longer sought understanding, Shelly and the team needed to get away from the guards and off the surface of the planet.

******

Travis Dershell impressed me from the moment the fighting started. Years before I thought of him as an adopted father, he would do anything to protect us.

Travis had respite enough between felling one guard and opposing the next to see Shelly Elsaap, and I escape the house and dash to a shed on the far side of the compound. He, Lancet, Simon, and Javier where now standing with their backs to one another in the courtyard, fending off the remaining guards and a few brave farmhands who joined the skirmish.

"You guys create a distraction, I'll

get Shelly and bring her back to the shuttle."

Simon nodded quickly before jumping to the side of a small lightning bolt, screamed from the angry maw of a farmhand. Dr. Lancett caught the guard unaware with a hook punch that crumpled him to the dirt. The Pneuma who escorted the trio to the farm hunkered down, then sprung at Javier, his tail acting as a coil to propel him right at the man's torso. They collided and tumbled in the dirt, Dr. Lancett joined the scuffle.

Travis chose that moment to break for our hideout. With a running start, he jumped, pumped his knee forward like a lance, connecting to the chest of a guard, and broke into a running stride. A dozen strides past a steely blue face appeared from between buildings, and as Travis spared a fleeting glance, the creature screamed fully into his face. Not a bolt of flame or electricity, but a sonic wail burst forth so intense that Travis's ears popped and all the chaotic sounds instantly disappeared. The battering of a tail, crushing into his ribs, jogged his senses. A couple quick jabs dropped his assailant and Travis staggered into the shed.

******

Simon cast glances around the barn yard for a distraction. Herd beasts that resembled boars, the size of a Hippopotamus, cowered in their pen. The excitement already had the animals rattled. "Doc, Javier, I need you guys to open the pen gate and then we'll blend with the herd."

"Stampede?" Javier looked puzzled. "How will that help Travis and Shelly?"

"We drive these pigs the other way, through them." Simon pointed a menacing finger at the stunned, knocked out, and injured Pneuma, a few of whom were already approaching the trio. Without another word Simon hopped over the pen and muscled his way to its rear.

Lancett narrowly dodged a spear thrust, taking the opportunity to close with his attacker. His martial art made him most effective when no space stood between him and his opponent. With only a grab and the rotation of his hip, Lancett whirled the Pneuma off its feet and slammed it onto the ground. Javier fended off two others, creating a space by swinging one of their spears wildly about. Lancett used the opportunity to open the pen wide before rejoining the skirmish.

Simon scooped up a pitchfork from the pen's adjoined barn and prodded the hide of a nearby boar. The animal squealed and bumped tusks into the hide of the animal in front of it. After a dozen hasty jabs and some screamed profanity Simon raced to trail the stampede. Javier and Dr. Lancett fell into step next to the man and the trio blended with the chaos that trampled over their attackers and fled into the fields beyond the compound.

******

Travis spotted three figures in the shadows and another surge of adrenaline pumped through his veins. He closed the distance and growled as he balled two fists and prepared to attack. Travis lunged into the shadowy shed and saw that small golden forms of Elsaap and I cowered next to Shelly, looking scared. Travis watched Shelly's lips curl into a smile and a wave of relief wash over her face.

"She's happy to see me, " he thought. "One screamed in my face and I can't hear, " he said, hoping for a moderate tone. He recalled the tendency the security team had to yell to one another at the shooting range when the speaker had ear plugs in, even when the listener did not. He quickly glanced back to see if he had attracted anyone's attention. Shelly grasped his shoulder, turning him back toward her and thrust her communicator up toward his face with a shaky hand. He placed his hand over hers to steady it as he read the pilot's message. He stole a glance at her when he finished. Their eyes met. His looked innocent and eager while hers went from panic to confusion at their shared moment. "Not the time, " he thought as he flashed a smile and mouthed, "Let's go".

Travis led us out of the shadows and toward the edge of the compound. Shelly heard commotion on the far end and looked back to see the remaining guards had gathered the Pneuma farmers into a line against the house wall. The burning barn washed them in an eerie light and contrasted the dark shadows of dusk. The leader began shouting… Shelly could only make out the word, "Contaminated". Whatever he said made some of the farmers cower against the wall while others pointed to the sky and yelled in protest.

The head guard raised a fist. His troupe raised their spears. His hand dropped. They lunged in, silencing protests and whimpers alike. Elsaap and I wailed in agony. Our families had been murdered before our eyes. Elsaap lunged toward the guards, Travis grabbed him and pulled him back. Shelly shushed and took us by the hand. They quickened the pace and we broke into a run as soon as we had cleared the buildings.

A sickening sound interrupted our escape. Travis moaned in pain as Shelly spun to see a spear had skewered him through the meat of his left thigh. He spun in a haphazard semicircle and fell into a twisted heap, breaking the shaft of the spear leaving only a few inches protruding from either side. Shelly rushed to his side and helped him to his feet as Elsaap and I hissed at the oncoming guard. Without breaking stride, a guard peeled back its lips, revealing pointed teeth. A blaze of lightning shot out its mouth and jolted into Travis. Shelly fell away from his side as he crumpled into a heap. Purple spots swam in her vision, and something in her hand felt cold. She held Travis's pistol. She must have grabbed it helping him up and latched on during the jolt.

A shot cracked out and blood streamed from the advancing guard's sinuous neck. It continued to advance a few paces, apparently unaware of the wound. It opened its mouth as if to sear her with another bolt, but collapsed in the dusty earth, a body length away.

Shelly felt Travis's neck for a pulse. Travis gasped a quick breath, startling her. A wave of relief washed over her and she motioned for us to grab an arm on either side of him. She grabbed his legs, careful not to twist the impaled thigh. We made slow progress away from danger. I cried for my mother and father while we carried the wounded man.

Moments passed as we carried his unconscious body. It seemed like hours to Shelly, she wondered if he would pull through. The sight of their shuttle offered sweet relief, she sighed and a few tears rolled down her pale cheeks. Lancett strapped him onto the stretcher in the back of the shuttle and wrapped his injured leg until they could return to LARC1 and get him to the colony's hospital. Shelly urged us onboard and we strapped into seats. She hadn't noticed before when sitting down for a meal, but our tails simply popped out from under us and twitched tentatively from side to side like a kitten at play.

Minutes passed and the shuttle touched down near the rocky hill where Javier, Dr. Lancett, and Simon were waiting. Simon's face looked dangerous when he saw Elsaap and I. His hand dropped for the pistol.

"No!" Shelly cried, "They helped me escape, and those guards killed the rest of their people." She unstrapped while she spoke and positioned herself between us and Simon.

"What the hell are you thinking bringing them aboard, " Simon snarled.

"They are political refugees now, " Dr. Lancett said, "This is a great opportunity for us to observe their species and to give Miss Crispin opportunity to become fluent in their dialect".

"They look kind of cute too, " Javier said. He pulled a power bar from his pocket, un-wrapped it, and broke it in half. He offered a piece to each of us, we accepted it, making a noise close to a purr in appreciation. I ate it even though we were stuffed from the banquet only minutes before. I didn't want anyone thinking we would be troublesome.

Lancett nodded toward Simon's burned leg, "Let's treat that, " he said. "We've got a couple of hours before the shuttle reaches the ship."

"Alright Doc" Simon replied, "Those medieval mini-Godzillas have got bad breath."

A few hours later the shuttle plotted an orbit around a nearby moon which brought them into position to dock within their colonial starship. Christa brought the shuttle into dock without incident. She had been out on hundreds of scouting missions carrying geologists, miners, and biologists to asteroids and planets that the ship passed by in order to gather supplies. It had been twentyfive years since the craft and its city of colonists left Earth to populate a distant world. Many of its original occupants had children who grew into adulthood onboard, never having seen their home planet, or any habitable world for that matter.

After docking the shuttle we were in the decontamination unit overnight. The medical technicians wore protective suits and operated on Travis's leg in an adjacent room. He had regained consciousness and his hearing loss had turned to a ringing noise that the Doctors assured him would be temporary.

"Is Shelly alright?" he asked when he came around.

"She fared well enough to get you to safety, " replied his physician. "You're lucky that spear missed an artery or you would have bled out before reaching the shuttle."

Shelly sighed with relief minutes later, when the Doctor delivered the news of his imminent recovery. She had only seen him around the ship a few times before today, but she thought it would be nice to spend some time with him after this had passed. She liked his athletic build and short black hair. He definitely offered a change of pace from the stuffy archeologist she had recently broken up with.

The approach of the ship's leader interrupted her thoughts. Admiral Grunden stood average in height, but broad shoulders, a thick chest, and sharp blue eyes gave an air of power. His piercing gaze immediately locked on Simon's face. His stare bored into the man, but to his credit Simon returned the look with a cool gaze that stood in defense of his actions. After a full minute Grunden scanned the rest of the group until he saw Shelly in the corner huddled near Elsaap and me. The penetrating stare melted into wide eyed, gape mouthed awe.

"They are fascinating biological specimens, " Dr. Lancett said, breaking the silence. "These are juveniles. All the adults we encountered were blue. I can't help but notice that their color changes during growth are reminiscent of eels back on Earth".

"Sir, I have arrived and begun an audio-visual recording for your debriefing, " said MARC. The android had entered silently behind the admiral. He had a human form, and his silver frame stood nearly four feet tall. MARC's face display featured a bland representation of human features. However his face could change at any moment when the image of one of the board of directors of the League of Atlantis Reborn Colonists, or LARC spoke. MARC embodied virtual representatives from the organization that coordinated the efforts of building, launching, and governing colonial vessels and eventually the colonies themselves. This vessel became the first of twenty according to the last update MARC downloaded over fifteen years ago.

"Thank you MARC. I'd like a complete report from the moment the shuttle left the dock, " said the Admiral.

"Sir, our visual scans of the planet's surface confirmed the data we gathered from our shipboard telescopes, " Dr. Lancett replied, "The Southern hemisphere is sparsely populated, while the North appears more densely inhabited."

"I located a lone settlement a few miles from the nearest city and set the craft down a couple miles away, well out of sight, " Christa said.

Simon recounted much of the conflict that erupted at the banquet table. MARC sat passively observing until the conclusion. His bland features changed to that of a woman in her eighties, skin tone replaced by the vibrant green hue of the projected image. "The League welcomes our little guests as political refugees. The planet Haran bodes exploration, but we would not advise colonizing next to undeveloped hostiles."

Our decontamination period lasted only another day and Shelly spent her time with us learning the finer points of Pneuma language and teaching the basics of American English, used as the everyday language on the ship. Then we spent an additional day with the colony's geneticist. Dr. Zimmerman felt eager to take down every detail of our physiology, natural habits, psychology, and anatomy. Somehow, Elsaap and I adjusted to our changes, we were happy that Shelly would be our caretaker until we reached maturity. I cried for my family often in those first days, but Shelly was always there to comfort me. Elsaap brooded a bit, but I've always been able to cheer him up. Shelly took us to Travis's room in the hospital after the physical exams.

"Hey." he said, startled.

"Hi." Shelly said.

"Hi." Elsaap and I chirped.

Travis noted the excited expression on our faces. His leg throbbed and his ears still had a mild ringing, but his discomfort quickly dissolved in Shelly's presence. A broad grin lit up his face and he motioned for the trio to sit. He pulled out earbuds and silenced the rapid beat of heavy metal from the end of the twentieth century, what he considered classic rock.

"I want to thank you guys for carrying me to safety back there, " he said.

"I wanted to thank you for coming after me, " Shelly said, feeling her cheeks flush and looking away for a moment. "I've been granted custody of Pringar and Elsaap, it seems that adopting beings who are fleeing death on their home-world is a lot easier than adopting an orphaned kid on the ship. We've been released from decontamination and reassigned to a much larger apartment."

"That's great! How are they doing here? It must be a crazy change of pace going from farm life to a space ship full of people without tails…"

"I can't believe how well they have taken it so far. Perhaps their youth lends to their acceptance of the changes, " she said.

Travis got control of his nerves, he knew this was a perfect moment to ask her out. In all the classic action movies filmed back on Earth, guys always get the girl after the explosions stop and they both make it out in one piece. She gave him a quizzical look.

"I've been hoping to get to know you, " he said, barely able to get the words out. "Can we spend some time together and get dinner when I get out?"

Shelly felt the heat in her cheeks rise, "That sounds great, " she said with a sheepish smile. We craned our necks close to one another and spoke in hushed excited tones. We glanced up at the two flirts for a brief look and chittered a giggle. It was clear, even to us, that these pink hairy primate people liked each other.

"Here is my new room assignment and my communicator number, type me a message as soon as you get released, " she said with a smile as she keyed the information into his communicator. "Bye" she kissed his cheek, which elicited even more chatter.

"Bye bye, " we repeated as we departed.

The journey to the neighboring planet in the solar system took seventeen days. Shelly recalled the excitement she felt as a little girl when the ship departed Earth's orbit and just a few weeks later approached Mars. What an amazing coincidence after all these years on board, exploring the universe that their destination star harbored not one habitable planet, but two. It took the ship twenty five years to reach the Pneuma's home world Haran. Now another half month and they would explore their second alien world. Telescopes uncovered no advanced life and no signals of any kind transmitted from the planet's surface.

Another sentient race to share existence with, the long term effects on the culture of this colony were unimaginable! Though the small group of farmers and guards they encountered were fearful and hostile, proof that the two species could happily cohabitate settled in to her new quarters. Whatever the potential discoveries their destination brought, Shelly had an entire lifetime's worth of work as a linguist right here with these children.

Doctor Zimmerman determined that Elsaap and I were not relatives, nearing adolescence, and that I was female while Elsaap was male. These were all things we could have told him had he waited a week or two for our English skills to develop. Our DNA showed an evolutionary ancestry included creatures unmistakably similar to eels on Earth, just as our appearance confirmed. Shelly felt excited to see how we fared in water since we have a set of gills as well. She knew Travis swam regularily and looked forward to a day at the beach in the colony's Earth habitat.

By the end of our first week together, Shelly had mastered the Pneuma dialect to fluency. A theoretically improbable feat since we had completely different vocal anatomies and histories. However the tongue's similarity to Sumerian, from Earth's earliest recorded history, enabled her studies to progress rapidly. The lingual departments from both of the ship's universities were eager for more than just her nightly notes and video recordings to study, but our wellbeing and proper adjustment to life among humans took priority. Our grasp of English proved inexplicably remarkable, since we had no advanced education or knowledge of dialects outside our own. After just days our fluency level would be considered conversational.

That evening Shelly settled in with us and asked that we tell stories about the way we lived. Pringar and I recited the tale in tandem, often finishing one another's sentences. Our tale formed a foundation of Pneuma culture as well as the cause of the scouting mission's abrupt failure.

Thousands of years ago the Pneuma lived much as they do today. Peaceful relations prevailed among all and the land provided the means for a fruitful existence. This ended when a group of villagers discovered a stone from the stars. It burned through the night sky and crashed into their village. The stone sparkled unlike anything they had seen, so the people broke it apart and fashioned bits of it into jewelry. Everyone in the village adorned themselves with fragments of the stone. Over the following seasons, a change began to occur starting with the color of their skin. Instead of a steely blue, the villages were turning black, white, green, purple, and red. Their backs sprouted massive wings and the changed villagers soon learned to take flight. Their breath energy, which were the sonic burst, electrical bolts, and spouts of flame unleashed from their throats intensified and they found that they could reach the ground with an attack from high above in the sky.

Their physical changes were only the beginning. A number of years passed and the once isolated village prospered and grew into the planet Haran's first city. Unchanged Pneuma came from neighboring communities to work under the changed ones, who distinguished themselves as an evolved species and called one another the Anki.

The Anki developed abilities using their imagination to manifest changes in the world around them. Some could persuade others to do things they otherwise would not, and read thoughts. Some Anki could move objects with their minds. Another group of Anki developed the ability to manifest objects that could perform extraordinary feats. This last group simply had to think of what they wished to accomplish, and the stones from the soil and elements of plant life twisted and changed into machines that could complete the task. In this manner the Anki developed a savant technology. No one among them knew how the devices functioned, nor could anyone handcraft their match. The children listed several items they had encountered onboard the ship stating that the Anki could make such devices with only a thought. Communicators, cooking stoves, refrigerators, transporters, and even ships were only a thought away.

The Pneuma who worked under the Anki became dependent upon the new technology and upon the Anki's new way of life. Soon the Anki aspired to spread their new civilization across all of Haran. The King and his subjects in the capital city began to revolt. They learned what had become of the Pneuma who turned into Anki and the fate of those who served. Many who lived during the revolt perished. The Anki destroyed the King and his entire army, but all the Pneuma had taken the cause. This would have been the end of the Pneuma, but the Anki took pity on those who were once their brothers. Unable to live in harmony, the Anki, who had the power of creation, formed ships that floated through the air and space. They were never seen again.

The Pneuma who remained rebuilt their villages and destroyed every remnant of the Anki except for their system of written words. Over the years a Pneuma would occasionally grow into an Anki, but never an entire village. When an Anki emerges, the King's guards execute it as soon as they get word. Fear of enslavement is so strong that when unexpected situations arise, the King's guards boil into a murderous frenzy. This caused the conflict that the scouting party encountered on Haran.

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