Author : Gray Blix
“Pangaea,” we nicknamed the planet, after its one-island-continent which resembles Earth’s Paleozoic-Mesozoic supercontinent of the same name. I was showing Krispie, named after a… well, you’ll see, the relative motions of our two planets around their stars on a holographic projection. He, or perhaps I should say “it,” since we have not detected any gender differentiation, was the first Centipod we had encountered after landing, and it remained, sixteen Earth months later, the only one with whom we have been able to communicate.
We had stopped cold as a creature, over 120 centimeters tall from the top of its shell to the soles of its feet, sidled out of the rainforest on 112 legs, looking like a cross between a centipede and a snail. Although its multifaceted eyestalk remained fixed on us, its 56 pairs of webbed feet propelled it slightly to its left, requiring continual course corrections to keep it moving toward our landing party, lest it otherwise would have circled back into the forest. All Centipods drift to the left as they walk, because their internal organs are clustered within the left portion of their mantle cavity, an asymmetrical mass that tips their balance… But I digress.
I had become close to Krispie as it mastered our language and trained our translator program to recognize Centipod snaps, crackles, and pops and vocalize them as English. We met every day, without fail, since that first one.
“Earth races around your Sun,” it said.
“It does, indeed. At 110,000 kilometers per hour, we complete an orbit in just 365 Earth days, compared to Pangaea’s 77,000 kph and 1,022 Earth days. We live in the ‘fast lane.'”
I thought Krispie had missed my point, because it replied, “NO. It is we who live in the fast lane.” After a long pause, “You once said you have lived 36 orbits?”
“Yes,” confused, “I’m 36. Why…”
Abruptly, it folded its four grasping appendages to its chest, swiveled its eyestalk leftward, and coiled around to march towards the opening of the tent.
“Did I say something to offend you?” I shouted, the translator emitting snaps, crackles, and pops.
“I cannot meet with you again, old friend,” it replied, exiting in the direction of the forest.
“You’re not going to meet with me anymore?” I gasped, increasing my oxygen flow as I strove to keep up. Centipods move quickly when motivated, as Krispie apparently was.
“Do you have the sickness?”
Every few steps I got stuck. My mud-walking shoes, fabricated by a shipmate for me to accompany Krispie around its village and environs, were back in the tent.
“Yes. The sickness.”
Centipods had been disappearing of late. We had catalogued villagers by shell markings and geotagged them, following them visually when possible and otherwise via a GPS satellite we’d placed in stationary orbit. Many were missing from the village and their geotags had gone silent. Centipods are the dominant species on Pangaea, so predators were not thinning their ranks. It had to be some sort of sickness.
“Please, let our medic examine you. Perhaps there is something we can do.” I knew our exobiologist couldn’t place Centipods within an Earth-like classification, much less our medic treat their alien sickness, but I feared I would never see Krispie again.
Faintly, “My year… Nothing to be done…” Then it was out of translator range.
They were all gone within the next week, not just in that village, but everywhere in Pangaea.
After five Earth months of intense heat and drought, the rains returned and little Centipods began emerging from the mud. They grew rapidly, because, as Krispie had said, they lived in the fast lane.