Author: Susan Cornford
Breakdowns always happen at the worst possible times and places. I was already running late on my last cargo run between the Four-Parsec star group and home base. If I got a little creative with my log entries, the old crate could be pushed up to just a bit more than the maximum cited in the specs. It could, until all the warning lights lit up like a super-nova. Sigh!
Nothing had actually exploded or imploded, so I eased her down to a crawl and looked for a place to set down for repairs. Doing them in space is fine, but finding a planet where you can siphon up a few essential atoms will save you a great deal in expensive replacements. Scanning showed a very usable spinning ball of elements that even had a compatible range of gravity, atmosphere and temperature so I could do without a spacesuit.
There was only one tiny problem. It was inhabited and The First Rule of planetary landings is: “Never interact with the locals”. This is not a problem in places where the light wavelengths make you and them invisible to each other. But no such luck in this case. So, I had to chance it, using only a masking emanation around the ship and myself.
I got down to work and the dry, sandy soil was perfect raw material for my needs. Soon all I had to do was to wait until all the atoms re-aligned themselves into the speed-boosting components that would let me make up for lost time. So, I had a look around for entertainment.
The locals mostly seemed to be bi-ped creatures of about my mass, covered with a layer of some kind of animal or vegetable fiber. They communicated with sound waves that came from the top part of their bodies, and apparently perceived light and movement with two pivoting balls in the same area.
There seemed to be quite a few of these creatures, milling around outside one of the caves that were numerous in the area. Some of the sound waves being produced were more high-pitched than I’d noticed to be usual. On close inspection, liquid was also abnormally flowing from their perception-balls. Another of the creatures arrived and was surrounded by the rest. I could tell by movements that the newcomer wanted the rock that was blocking the cave to be moved away. There was much waving of appendages, shrill noises and flowing liquid. But the rock was moved.
By then I was consumed with curiosity, so I popped into the cave to see what the cause of all this excitement was. The locals would just perceive me as one of the small, flying things that they waved their upper appendages at. There was another of the creatures in the cave, all bound up in even more fiber layers than the others. Its metabolic rate was almost down to zero and about to be extinguished. Now, I’m always being told that I’m too sentimental and I should harden up my soft crust. So, I know I shouldn’t have done what I did but, for goodness sake, how much difference could it make? One little jolt from the reviver pen and the creature was up like a shot and ambling back out of the cave to join the others. I’ll never forget the sound they kept making, over and over: lazarus, lazarus, lazarus!
And, you know, it was funny but it seemed to me, just for a moment, that the last creature, the newcomer, could somehow see me as I really am.