Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
Alpha Doore is a Mars size planet orbiting an orange-red main sequence dwarf star called BD+56 2966 in the Constellation Cassiopeia. The oxygen and water rich world had several large continents and a flourishing ecosystem. The exploration team was near the end of its six month long mission of categorizing the various indigenous life forms when Commander Komney authorized a two-man sojourn into the subterranean caverns, which had been classified “promising, but tertiary” by the Mission Assessment Team.
The following day, the two would-be spelunkers were a quarter of a mile into an immense corrasional cave when they encountered a herd of giant centipedes “grazing” on the chemoautotrophic moss growing on the damp cavern walls. The creatures were enormous by any standard. Their fifteen foot long segmented bodies were about eighteen inches in diameter; with a dozen horizontal leg-bearing segments trailing two vertical arm-bearing segments capped by a head section. The main body stood three feet above the ground on long but obviously sturdy limbs. The posterior leg pairs were slightly longer than those preceding it, giving the creature a pronounced trough between its “back” and the vertically oriented front end. The head contained two flexible eyestalks that were so high above the ground that the human explorers had to look up to make eye contact.
“Wow, look at the size of those guys,” exclaimed Doctor Zabell, the landing party’s Medicinal Chemist slash Structural Exobiologist (cross-disciplinarian specialization was commonplace on the mission, since crew members were selected using the standard “double-up model,” where each contributor was expected to wear multiple hats). In addition, Zabell fancied himself a zoologist, a botanist, an anatomist, and anything else that allowed him to pontificate ad nauseam. “Adam,” he whispered, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Oh, I doubt it,” replied Adam Ryder, the team’s Maintenance Engineer slash Galley Chef, who volunteered for this particular excursion because he needed a break from cleaning the anti-matter injectors, but mostly because be was bound and determined to find a viable supply of Agaricus bisporus for his famous Mushroom Bisque.
“Well,” continued the doctor slash lecturer, “I was thinking that they must be intelligent. Their heads are enormous, and if that’s where the brains are, then they must be twice the size of ours. And look at their four hands. They have opposable thumbs. These creatures are probably capable of delicate manipulation. I wouldn’t be surprised if they can make, and use, sophisticated tools. You weren’t thinking that?”
“Okay, I was also wondering what was driving their evolutionary process. For instance, are they this large because the gravity on Alpha Doore is only four tenths that of Earth? And listen to the rapid clicking noise. I think that they might be trying to communicate with us. And why are they traveling in herds? Earth arthropods don’t do that. I have a million questions. Aren’t you curious about any of that?”
“Okay, Adam. So tell me, what is it that you’re thinking?”
“I’d rather not say, Doctor. I don’t think you’d consider it very professional.”
Dr. Zabell studied his companion for a moment. The young Maintenance Engineer was eying the nearest centipede with steely determination, his jaw tightening, his fingers flexing. “Dammit Adam, you want to try to ride one, don’t you?”
Slowly, the corners of Adam Ryder’s lips curled upward into a devilish grin.