Fantasy Science Fiction posted July 28, 2022

This work has reached the exceptional level
Aliens encounter human invaders

Drowned World

by Fleedleflump

Alien Invasion Contest Winner 

It looked at me like younglings at their parents, wide-eyed, shaking almost imperceptibly. I rested my fins on the glass of the prison cell, feeling the hum of the nearby generators thrumming through the infrastructure. Sucking in a deep chest-full of water, I sighed and felt the fluid easing from my gills.
“What do you think they want?” asked Phayron, his purple antennae quivering in confusion.
“Well, we know they need Oxygen, now, and our air has just enough to sustain them. And we know they can’t survive underwater, after what happened to the first wave of prisoners.” I swept my fin along the row of glass pods. “Hence our hasty repurposing of the Aquafree labs.” I looked around at the facility with its bright walls and narrow waterways. “It’s not natural, breathing air like that. It’s just dirty! How do they get any nutrients?”
Phayron shook with gentle laughter. “Yes, but I mean why are they here? For what purpose did they attack us?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. Their weaponry is primitive and the craft they arrived on barely star-worthy, with very limited fuel and supplies. Perhaps they were desperate. That outpost they were creating when our greeting party approached was basic but functional - they knew what they were doing, and were already studying the air-based flora and fauna, presumably as potential sources of food.” I tapped my fin on the glass. “This one seemed to be the leader.”
It was still staring at me - implacable now, still like the moments between tides. The way it held its mouth in a flat line looked uncomfortable so I thought it was intentional. Was this expression intended to communicate something to me? With no basis for comparison, I could only wonder.
"You killed my friend," I pulsed at the prisoner, wondering whether it had any ability to receive me. I thought about Geffer as I'd last seen her, small holes perforating her suit and body. "All she did was ask you what you needed from us."
“Pod leader just pulsed me,” said Phayron. “They want to see us in Research.”
We floated in the edge area set aside for students attending lectures in the aquadome. The Research team had flooded the inner bowl of the teaching laboratory with air so they could study the aliens without instantly killing them. Our colleagues clomped around in watersuits, flooded with nutrified liquid so they could live for a short time in the air.
Gondar, our head scientist, was plodding his way around two prisoners, their pale forms held in robotic arms controlled by some students so excited their suits were visibly pulsing.
“These specimens have different genitalia,” said Gondar, the knowledge of his communication manifesting in our thoughts. “So far, we’ve found two gender variants, although the extent of their external physical differentiation varies wildly.” The arms dragged the struggling creatures closer to the edge where we floated, so I could see their wiggling shapes and strangely loose external cladding. “The one on your left has external genitalia of average size among those we’ve studied. On your right is the other variant, with internal genitalia. This one carries swollen fatty glands we believe are for the purpose of feeding offspring.”
The creatures were making guttural noises and appeared to be in distress but it was hard to be sure. Both had clearly defined musculature which, combined with the weaponry we’d confiscated, suggested they were military versions of their species.
I tapped a fin on the glass. “Gondar, does it cause them discomfort to be held by the heads like this?”
“Indeed, our scans indicate they have elevated levels of distress and something deeper and less rational that we do not recognise. We will drain some of their brain and stomach fluids to see what we can learn.”
Phayron shifted as he pulsed a thought. “Have we made any headway with translation?”
“Not with specific language, no, although they have a strong connection with their home planet. Studies of their brain outputs show they think of this place frequently. Combined with some imagery we found in their ship instruments, we were able to map it. We don’t know what they call it, but it’s in system Barras 4276 on our charts. Our scans show no other inhabited planets nearby. They may have believed themselves unique.”
This was interesting. “So they are Barrans. We were wondering why they came here. Do they need resources? That would explain their studying when we approached them. Or are they just exploring? We attempted communication but they attacked us instantly." The image of Geffer popped into my thoughts again, her fin extended in greeting, the projection weaponry bursting through her form before we could react. I felt something I wasn't accustomed to - sadness, but with a harder edge beneath it.
I shook my head to clear it. "Which is why we rounded them up. Are they ill, searching for a cure? It seems strange to land on our planet, with only 30% land mass, when they clearly aren’t suited to underwater living.”
“I can tell you,” replied Gondar, “their own planet has a similar level of land mass. Perhaps they simply ran out of space. Two-gendered species have a tendency to replicate exponentially. Their brain chemistry is very different to ours, so I can’t immediately explain their extreme aggression, but I suspect it has something to do with that irrational emotional reading we were getting.”
“Is there any indication of how they replicate?”
Gondar gestured to his students. “If we take a quick look inside, you’ll see some more differences.”
The students gripped levers with their fins and went to work. Cutting arms extended from the robotic apparatus, swinging around before the Barrans, and sliced them neatly down the front. Their outer layers peeled back, bursting away from muscles beneath. Hideous screeches issued from their mouths, making the glass vibrate, and I felt my scales tighten in discomfort.
“Can we make them quiet?” pulsed Phayron.
Gondar nodded and gestured to the students. The cutting arms swept across the Barrans beneath their chins. Liquid squirted and gushed, flinging through the air in messy ribbons, and they turned blissfully silent. Within a few moments, their faces went still.
Something stirred in my insides, another unfamiliar sensation - powerful, pleasurable… inappropriate.
“They use apparatus in their necks to make sound,” said Gondar. “As well as to extract what they need from the air. It seems this is their primary form of communication, although we don’t know how evolved they are, or whether their language is organised.”
“I would hope,” I pulsed, “that any beings who can travel the way they have would be quite evolved.”
Phayron sent a laughing wave into my mind. “They don’t behave very evolved.”
At Gondar’s direction, the students peeled back the muscle layers so he could continue.
“One has internal storage we believe to be for growing offspring. Beyond that, they are quite similar, with key organs protected by this bone cage.”
I spread my fins in a shrug. “Does this help us if we need to protect ourselves from them? This group did not give us very much trouble." There it was again - Geffer, suddenly dead, for no purpose. "But if there are lots more of them, things could get problematic. If they have outgrown their planet, we can assume there are more, and they may have ship-mounted weaponry we haven’t seen yet.”
Gondar nodded. “Pod command had similar questions, but you and Phayron will be leading the defence if we need it.” He indicated the limp, dripping forms. “As you saw, they are vulnerable in the neck area, but their armour is strong there, and likewise this bone cage, if you can get between the bars, is a weakness.” He turned to face us. “I would suggest attacking their limbs - without the lower ones, they will be immobilised, and without the upper ones, they will not be able to use their weapons. Then you can simply remove the head with a twisting motion. Of course, you can also get them into the water, where they will be ineffective.”
I pulsed a sense of thanks. “I will confer with The Pod." A dark mist descended over my thoughts like night across the ocean. A thought occurred to me. "In the meantime, can I have these specimens?”
“We will extract any fluids we need, and I’ll have the students put them in bags for you.”
When we returned to the prison area, I had Phayron hold one of the carcasses up to the glass while I held the other. If I was going to face these Barran creatures, I hoped to understand more of how they reacted to stimulus. At least, that's what I told myself.
The Barran jumped to its feet, mouth opening and more of those guttural sounds issuing forth.
I put all my effort into pulsing my thoughts at the creature. "When I saw my friend with holes after you killed her, I felt sadness, and something else. I want to know what that something else is." I shook the corpse and banged it against the glass a couple of times. "Why does it feel good to do this? What have you done to me?"
The prisoner backed up and slumped in the corner of its space, water leaking from its eyes, and simply stared at me. I got no indication it knew I was trying to communicate.
I felt a calming pulse coming from Phayron. "Are you at ease, pod brother?"
"I do not understand how I feel. I wish we could communicate with our gazes." I pressed myself hard against the glass so my eyes almost touched it.
As I stared into the Barran’s eyes, I saw something change. It cocked its jaw and narrowed its eyelids slightly. I swear, a twinkle appeared, flashing in the depths of its gaze.
“We’re getting readings,” said Phayron. “More craft encroaching on the outer limits.” He closed his eyes for a moment, communicating. “More than we had hoped.” I felt a wave of concern come from my long-time friend. “Many, many more. This is serious. The Pod needs us, fin brother. Come.”
As I swam away from the prison glass with Phayron, I looked back one last time, wondering if our prisoner knew more than we suspected. It was watching me go.
And for the first time I’d seen, the Barran smiled.


Alien Invasion
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