Though it was inconcievably alien
A being from so far outside us
As to be all but indecipherable
She raised it, loved it as her own
So when the time came to leave
It spoke to her without words
Predicting the world’s fiery end
At its own inscrutible hands
But promising to its “mother”
A few minutes’ warning before
And a final song of blowing brass
The music she had always loved
Announcing the end of the world
As recomense for a kindness
Neither could ever understand

Inspired by the song ‘2nd variety’ by Hiroki Kikuta, released under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

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“I still haven’t met the bride-to-be,” said Houston. “Knowing you, she’s got to be a little crazy.”

“Oh, pshaw,” said Pierre. “Have you even been looking at my Facebook? I’m settling down, getting old and boring.”

“I have a hard time believing that ten years would be enough time to file off those sharp edges,” Houston replied. “Plus, everyone censors themselves now that their grandmothers are on there.”

“Well, judge for yourself,” Pierre said, opening the dining room door. “May I present Ms. Jane Roe, the future Mrs. Pierre Delecroix.”

Houston stopped dead at the sight of the short brunette. Those eyes…that face…he hadn’t seen them in years, not since that terrible night. He could still feel the world tumbling beneath him, see the harsh lights, feel the cold clammy metal…

“Ah, so is that what you’re going by these days?” Houston said. “When I knew her, she was still going by “უცხოელის” but admittedly it’s hard to make a proper introduction when you’re being abducted and probed by ნეპტუნიians.”

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Every hardened spacer knows the ixar, the space-rats: small skittering creatures with seven legs and a hide that’s hairy between plates of chitin. Incredibly adaptable and able to withstand environments from a vacuum to a hothouse, they are regarded as pests aboard ships and ruthlessly eradicated. Populations of ixar have become established near most spaceports, though their original world of origin is unknown.

Far fewer know of the nuuixar, and even those tend to be tall tales passed around spacer bars after a few rounds of drinks.

For all intents and purposes, the nuuixar resemble the ixar and are easily mistaken for them. Whether this is a natural mimicry adaptation, an evolutionary relationship, or some form of shapeshifting has never been established. But unlike the ixar, the nuuixar are deeply intelligent and are capable of sophisticated tool use and communication on psionic wavelengths.

Hence there are dark tales of nuuixar posing as simple ixar in order to steal secrets, selling tradeship routes to pirates or sabotaging key components of stardrives. There are no confirmed cases–what pirate would admit to purchasing information from a space-rat?–but many a spacer adrift in a lifepod has blamed a nuuixar, real or imagined, for their plight.

As creatures of psionic capability, nuuixar reportedly are able to form a gestalt intelligence, exponentially increasing their powers when in close proximity. Some say they use this power to overtake unwary ships and pilot them deep into the galactic core, where they are preparing a massive fleet to make their presence one day known.

Something to consider the next time you set a trap loaded with Ixar-B-Gon.

“I don’t get it,” Albert said. “Why can’t you continue to collaborate after he grows up? I thought Neltoq was grown up already.”

“You don’t read much, do ya, kid?” said Gelb. He flicked ash from his cigarette onto the station floor. “For the Ultoq, growing up’s the same as death.”

The Ultoq homeworld was a global mass of structures not unlike mangrove swamps on Earth, with only shallow seas and upland plains in between. Competition was fierce, so Ultoqs had evolved a complex life cycle to prevent their young from competing with adults. Ultoq newborns were planktonic, released in vast numbers with only a few reaching the second stage and moving back to shore. After a metamorphosis, the primate-like Ultoq that most humans were familiar with emerged. With binocular vision, a highly-developed forebrain, and opposable fingers on all seven limbs to facilitate moving and feeding in the vast and complex root structures, the second stage was intelligent enough to develop a civilization and tools if it lasted longer. Evolution, however, had dictated that the second stage existed merely to gather food; once a certain stage of growth was reached, the Ultoq returned to the sea and underwent a final metamorphosis into a sessile, mindless tunicate-like filter feeder, which lived only to send out vast quantities of sperm or eggs into the sea to begin the cycle anew.

It wasn’t until, by chance, a second-stage Ultoq discovered the grinyth plant that their civilization had developed. Grinyth fruit and leaves produced a compound that retarded the onset of the final metamorphosis–as long as there was grinyth in its system, an Ultoq would not proceed to the last stage of its life. Even as Ultoq Civilization developed, though, the need to maintain their numbers was paramount. Thus, after a time, they would all cease intake of grinyth–or its synthesized derivatives–and “grow up,” losing all memory and ability to propagate the species.

“Heavy stuff, man,” said Albert. “Heavy stuff.”

“And if it’s not done by the end of the week, I’ll have your heads on a platter at the partners’ meeting and on stakes in the plaza after that!” Kilp yelled. “When you work in this firm, you produce results!” She stormed off, ponytail swinging angrily. Each strike of a high heel on the floor seemed forceful enough to shatter shoe or tile, whichever was weaker.

A short silence followed.

“Kilp, why must you be the queen of all bitches, indeed of all bitch-kind?” Mike said to the closed door. “The single template from which all other bitches are wrought?”

“Upbringing,” said Gene. “Raised in a house with seven brothers, forced to learn how to mash balls to live.”

“Sex change,” Mike countered. “You can take the drill instructor out of the Marines, you can even cut the drill off of the Marine, but you can’t take the marine out of the drill instructor. Not even with hormones.”

“You guys have it all wrong,” said Jason. “You see, Kilp is really the proboscis of a pandemensional predator which must feast of human souls.”

“Give it a rest, Jason,” Gene groaned. Fun was fun, but Jason’s moronic flights of fancy had a way of getting old.

“Hear me out, hear me out,” said Jason, grinning. “Kilp’s projected into our reality as a lure, like an anglerfish, and our misery sustains her between feedings. She subsists on a diet of interns, since no one notices when they disappear, but every now and then hungers for sweeter meat. When one of us gets fired, we’re really enveloped and consumed.”

Grumbles and a few crumpled wads of paper came at Jason from every angle.

“Mark my words,” he continued. “And beware if she ever opens her mouth way wider than usual and you see rows of teeth.”

In the nearby conference room, Kilp had one ear pressed to the door.

“He knows!” she growled.