Kemetti loves FTL travel, the feeling of slipping free of the universe, and racing by the stars as they slowly made their galactic circuits. But once again, the feeling of emptiness drives him to slide back into material reality. He sits quietly for a moment, feeling the radiations that whiz by until he senses a coherent signal. What the lesser beings of the universe call communication. It draws his attention to an inhabited world not far from him. With a surge of power, he launches himself towards the world of Antimone, hungry.
On a rocky promontory overlooking the sea, not far from the city of Valsho, Batea Zall looks at the pendant in the palm of her hand. Beneath a violet-gray sky, she stands buffeted by the stiff ocean breeze. A storm’s coming, but she’s used to turbulent weather.
The hovercab driver blurts the horn and shouts over the wind: “Maza’s fetid armpits, lady! Are we going to stay here all day? Meter’s running!”
Batea doesn’t turn. The meter’s running, and she’ll happily pay for the sickly old cabbie’s time. She eyes that keepsake in her palm. It shouldn’t be so hard to let it go. And yet…
Not from the rocky overlook, one of the rocks along the beach stirs slightly. A pair of electric blue shining eyes watches the incoming storm. Arrrngaaa, the Drrhaan Lifebearer, prepares to make its appeal to the Spirits in the hope They will bestow upon it their blessing in the form of the shining bolt from the sky. Slowly, its arms raise towards the sky, and it stands, and waits….
The massive Yaralu reaches orbit as the storm approaches the coast below him, stretching out his senses. It is then that he begins to transmit on all EM bands the following: “Lesser beings of this planetary body, I am Kemetti, last of the Yaralu. I have come in need of organic matter that I require for sustenance. I have no particular desire to harm you, so I offer you the opportunity to provide it freely. I will await your response for one rotation of your world.”
The hovercab driver peers at the voice coming through the radio. He looks toward the storm clouds and his stubborn passenger on the cliff. “Have a damned salad,” he grumbles at the Yaralu. Then he yells out the window: “Any time now, lady!”
Batea, oblivious to Kemetti’s message, closes her eyes as she holds her upturned palm over the edge of the cliff, then slowly turns it clockwise until the pendant falls toward the churning sea.
Arrrngaaa is also oblivious to the message of Kemetti, his focus on the gathering storm clouds, his arms raised towards them, waiting, almost… praying.
A full day is but a moment to the orbiting space whale, Kemetti seems unconcerned by the lack of response from the planet below. He passes near a freighter and slows, considering it a moment before he passes on.
A space traffic controller at the Valsho starport listens to a replay of Kemetti’s message. “I’m not hearing things,” he confirms. He forwards the message to the Timonae planetary security bureau. There, Agent Vestin Gon proceeds to analyze the message. He flags it as a potential threat. It moves on to the Hazards Desk, where Agent Ullix Fahz just stares at it for a few seconds before storing it for future review after lunch with his mistress.
The storm draws closer, lightning flashing through the clouds. Then, with a flash, a bolt shoots from the sky and strikes Arrrngaaa, sending electricity crackling through it, his eyes glowing brightly as its lifeforce is recharged. Its arms are slowly lowered, as small wisps of smoke waft from the surface of his body, something it seems unconcerned with. Its gaze then looks upward towards where it senses Kemetti’s signals, something he is just now becoming aware of. For the moment, it seems to ponder.
The immense creature above seems little concerned with the storm below, passing quite close by a smaller vessel, as a shark might, sizing it up, but taking no immediate action.
The pilot of the smaller vessel, Ahzi Phix, stares out the cockpit as she ferries a Centauran passenger toward an orbiting cruise liner. “Never seen one of those before. What does it mean about sustenance? What kind of organic material do you suppose it wants?”
The Centauran clinks as its crystalline body rotates in the passenger area. It emanates waves of concern and vocalizes the words: “Us, perhaps.”
Arrrngaaa works up an EM signal of its own, sending it skyward. “Specifyyyyyy fooooood.” it sends. “Iiiiif harrrrrmmmm peopllllllle, peoplllllle defennnnnnd.”
The great Yaralu slows, its orbit decaying for a moment, before it moves to synchronize its position with that of the Drrhaan. “I require organic materials,” he sends back, “What kind they are and whether or not they believe themselves to be sentient is of no concern to me. I must feed.”
Ahzi watches the sensors as the leviathan slows. Something got the great beast’s attention. Might as well take advantage. She picks up velocity toward the starliner Avondale, speaking into the comms: “This is the Pedigree Silver, seeking approach vector and berth assignment on the Avondale.”
The response: “Acknowledged, Pedigree Silver. You are cleared for approach on bearing 265, -31. Berth 19. Slow to one-quarter sublight on final approach.”
She glances at the sensors once more, then switches off the comms. “Yeah, well, that’s kind of up to that thing’s appetite.”
Arrrngaaa ponders this for a moment. “Seeeeemmsssss wrrrrronggggg.” it sends back. “Peeeeoplllllle nnnnnnooooooot fooooooood.”
“Wrong is a construct, survival an imperative,” comes the reply as Kemetti senses the shuttle’s approach of the passenger liner full of what he seeks, “I harbor no animosity for lesser creatures, nor do I share Comorro’s strange affection for them. This world has completed one quarter of its rotation…”
The Pedigree Silver continues her course toward the Avondale.
Arrrngaaa ponders this response for a minute. “Yeeeeessss. Surrrrivalllll. Sennnntiennnnnts alllllso haaaave riiiiiight to surrrrvivallllll.” it sends back.
“Rights are a construct,” Kemetti replies, shifting his course towards the Avondale, senses scanning it. “Sentience is relative,” he adds, “The children of this world still have the ability to decide. I will not, however, await their response indefinitely.”
Ullix Fahz finally checks out the transmission received from Kemetti. He takes out a pink polyhedral crystal, tosses it in the air, and watches it settle on his desk. He eyes the result. He opens a line to the planetary defense HQ and says: “We’ve got an orbital threat. The crystal tells me to eliminate it. Proceed.” He then sets to work logging the crystal image while the defense squad scrambles to their fighters and missiles are primed in their silos.
“Connnnstrrrruuuuct orrrrr nnnnnnot, channnnnnge llllittllllle. Trrrrruth iiiiiis trrrrrrruth.” Arrrngaaa replies. “Peopllllllle responnnnnd nnnnnegatiiiiively toooo thrrrrreat.”
“Yes,” the Yaralu replies as his senses begin to pick up the military activity below, “They do. It would seem they have chosen the way of death…” As the Yaralu moves to put the passenger liner between it and the planet surface, a giant tendril stretches out from his body towards the large vessel in an attempt to grapple it.
The captain of the Avondale orders his pilot to accelerate and evade, but not in time to avoid the grappling.
Ahzi, aboard the Pedigree Silver, just looks over her shoulder at the Centauran passenger and says: “You can enjoy another day or two on Antimone. Crash at my place, if you want. I’m not sticking around here.”
Using its vocalizer, the Centauran states: “I am in agreement.”
The Silver arcs around at full speed toward the cloud-wisped violet world.
Arrrngaaa at this point sees that it can not convince the Yaralu to turn away from its chosen course. Starting to lumber down the beach, it keeps ‘tuned’ to the EM bands, listening to the situation unfold.
Kemetti draws the passenger liner towards himself, maintaining his orbit while awaiting the incoming fighters and missiles, though a wistful thought is given the fleeing shuttle.
Fahz now reviews a report from orbital traffic control about the Avondale becoming ensnared by the creature.
“Maza’s tits,” he sighs. Normally, he works the Bureaucratic Gifting Registry on the other side of the city, but the assignment system picked today of all days to shift him – at random – to a new “career experience.” He takes the pink crystal and gives it another toss. Checks the outcome. He frowns, then informs the planetary defense squad: “Attack when ready.”
The commander at defense HQ, Olled Benti, checks the scans of the Yaralu versus the passenger manifest of the Avondale. He’s not quite ready to act without question. He calls on his own polyhedral oracle, one of blue crystal, which he tosses onto the tabletop. He checks the outcome. He tells his people: “Stand down.” Then he logs the crystal image in case of later challenges.
Fahz is honestly relieved by this turn of events. He then informs space traffic controllers to urge Kemetti to release the cruise liner and negotiate for an alternative source of sustenance.
The Yaralu listens to the traffic as he begins to pull away from the violet world, dragging the passenger liner behind him. “Well…” his voice sends in query.
“What, exactly, do you want to eat – other than the innocent civilian passengers aboard the Avondale?” comes the transmission from Antimone space traffic control. “We would like to think that we can reach some sort of accommodation.”
“I require organic materials,” the Yaralu replies coldly, “It does not matter what they are. You were given this choice upon my arrival. Now I must dictate terms. The mass of what you provide must be double that of this vessel I have taken. It must be brought to the coordinates I am sending you, outside your system. No vessel may be closer to the drop than your world is to its star. I will leave this vessel there, and remove myself from your system.”
Back in traffic control, one of the workers takes out his PDA and asks his companions: “Fecal matter is organic, right?”
Silence for several long moments. The others just stare at him in disbelief. One of them finally says: “Metabolic waste. It’s not going to give him sustenance. It’s going to anger him.”
Another traffic controller says, “We’ve got a few cruise liners set for mothballs. Pump the cabins full of sea water. Between the fish and the smaller organisms, he might be satisfied.”
The team gets to work.
In deep space, just barely within sensor range of the coordinates he has proscribed, Kemetti waits, tendrils wrapped about the passenger liner. Any time he detects transmissions from within, he begins to squeeze the hull. His senses stretch out into the blackness of space, awaiting the arrival of dinner.
Dinner arrives – three cruise liners, boosted into orbit after they’re loaded with sea water teeming with fish, plankton, and other ocean life from Antimone and then pushed by space tugs toward the void beyond the planet’s orbital elliptic in search of the waiting Yaralu.
About this time, a handful of Sivadian warships drop out of FTL near Antimone. The fleet commander broadcasts: “This is Rear Admiral Plimpton St. John-Crowell. Release the Avondale at once or face immediate retaliation.”
The Yaralu appears nearly ready to move towards the cruise liners when it picks up the transmission. Hunger nearly overcomes pragmatism for a moment, but he thinks better of it. Pulling the passenger vessel tightly against his own hull, he simply sends out the word, “No.”
With that, the enormous creature turns towards deep space, and slips free of the universe as he engages hyperlight propulsion systems.