Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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Alien Mosquito

by Joseph Vadalma


The stench of death and formaldehyde permeated Dr. Bruce Meyer's mask as he entered the prison autopsy room, a place of whispers and harsh shadows. Meyer had been called in because of his expertise in alien microbiology and disease. The corpse to be examined had been a criminal by the name of Charles Natkin, a thug belonging to the notorious Hamstrung gang, space pirates and hijackers.

Natkin death was mysterious. He had no symptoms of anything wrong until one day he began to scream of excruciating pains in his stomach and chest. By the time the prison guard came to his aid, he was dead. Preliminary examination of the body revealed no known cause. The fear was that he had somehow contracted an alien disease that could be spread to other humans. If that was the case, it was a first. Normally, alien germs and virus did not affect human beings since the microbes from an alien planet usually only preyed on native species. Up until this time it was considered a law of biology.

After Natkin was arrested, he told his cellmate about some strange events that occurred when his gang boarded a prospector's vessel. During his recorded interrogation, which Meyer watched before the autopsy, his fellow prisoner said, "I ain't gonna' die too, am I? You don't know? It depends on what killed Charlie? Sure, I'll cooperate. The son-a-bitch told me that he and Hamstrung and their pals found a derelict prospector's ship. When they went to the cargo hold, they found a fairly new, although banged up, Explorer-class starship, a small quantity of plasteel ore, and a corpse with a horribly burned face. Charlie said that on the bridge there were two dead men. They had mold in neat rows on their chests and stomachs like someone planted it there. They also each had a six-inch piece of metal stuck in his throat. When Charlie and his buddies came near the bodies, clouds of mites rose from them." The prisoner rolled his eyes. "Now, here is the crazy part that I never believed. According to Charlie, the bugs started firing lasers at them, and he hightailed it out of there in Hamstrung's starship. He didn't know what happened to the rest of the gang. That's the story he told me."

####

Meyer watched as the pathologist opened up the corpse. He gazed in amazement. He'd never seen anything like that before. Natkin's internal organs were charred as though he had been roasted from the inside. A buzzing came from him, and a gnat-size insect flew out.

"Quick, get it," Meyer cried as he went after the creature himself. The pathologist looked startled but did not move.

Meyer gazed around to see whether anything was available that he could use to capture the insect. By this time, the thing had disappeared. It was hiding somewhere in the room.

Meyer turned to the pathologist. "Have the room sealed off. No one must enter until we find that insect. We can't let it get out of here." The pathologist pulled out his cell phone and gave the order to seal the room. "Now what can I use to trap it?"

Meyer looked around until he found a strainer of fine mesh. He tied this to the end of an instrument with a long handle to make a makeshift butterfly net. Slowly, he walked around the room examining every surface. Finally he spotted the tiny creature on a lab bench. He quickly covered it with the strainer. It rose up, but could not penetrate the mesh -- at first. Meyer watched fascinated as laser light from it began to burn away the mesh. Before it could burn a hole large enough to escape, he covered it with a glass measuring cup.

Meyer turned to the pathologist. "Do you have something flat and metallic?"

The pathologist found a bone saw blade. "Will this do?"

"Yes." Meyer placed a flat part of the saw level with the bench top and carefully slid the glass container until it rested on the saw. He turned over the glass and saw until the saw became the lid. Fascinated, he watched as the insect flew around inside the glass. "Okay, I can hold the bug like this temporarily, but we need to find a way to keep it secured. This is what killed Natkin."

####

Dr. Ivan Northern, entomologist, groomed his beard with his fingers as the team waited for their leader, Adam Cherbinski of Orion Empire Security. Cherbinski was an alien archeologist as well as being a special agent. Northern spoke to the two others present, Dr. Diane Shem, a technology expert, and Dr. Bruce Meyer, M.D, alien microbiologist. "Abandoned ships are found all the time, and no one knows what happens to their occupants. Usually only the galactic patrol are involved. Why are we being sent to this one?"

Meyer said, "Because it contains something that may pose a threat to the entire spiral arm."

"What do you expect to find?" asked Shem.

"Evidence of a technologically advanced alien race different from anything we've ever encountered before, and a clue as to where they originated. As soon as Adam gets here, I'll show you something the likes of which you've never seen before."

A few moments later, Adam Cherbinski entered the room and slammed the door behind him. He was a large, heavily muscled man in his middle years. "Sorry, I'm late. Air traffic was heavy from Singu City." He took a seat at the head of the conference table. "Gentlemen and lady, do you all know each other?" They nodded. "Well, then let's get right down to it. You and I have been selected to go on mission of utmost importance to the security of the Orion Empire and of profound scientific interest as well. Doctor Meyer has the details. I turn the meeting over to him."

Meyer went to the front of the room and pressed a button that brought down a viewing screen. "This all started when a prisoner at the Traku Maximum Security Facility died suddenly and mysteriously. At first it was thought that he had succumbed to an alien microbe. That's why I was called in on the case. When I and the prison pathologist opened him up, we found his internal organs burned to a crisp and what we first thought was an insect flew out him. It turned out that he was killed by an attack from an intelligent alien being."

Northern said, "Hold it. First you said his internal organs were burned. Next, you said that a bug flew out of him. Yet, you say that he was attacked by an alien being. What actually killed him?"

Meyer described what happened in the autopsy room. "I have a slide that shows under high magnification what we at first thought was an insect." He switched on the overhead projector. Projected on the screen in back of him was an alien artifact that resembled a jet airplane.

Northern said, "Are you telling me that was what you first thought was gnat is an airplane?"

"Exactly. That should interest you, Diane. It seems like a miracle in miniaturization, no?"

Diane Shem replied, "Oh we could build something like that with nanotechnology, but what would be the purpose?"

"To spy on people or as a weapon of war perhaps. This one obviously is a fighter aircraft that uses laser weapons. But there's something more startling. We split it open and looked inside. We found this."

He clicked a button for the next view. It showed an alien creature with six limbs lying on its back. Since it had an exoskeleton, it appeared ant-like. The top two limbs, however, ended in six-fingered hands with opposable thumbs. The head was similar to a human's head in shape except that it had antenna and was hairless. In addition it had mammalian eyes, nostrils but no nose and an insect mouth. What was most startling was that it wore a helmet and clothes.

"Is this a hoax?" Northern cried. "Such a creature cannot exist."

"I'm afraid it can and does. Allow me to give an idea of the scale of the thing. The airplane object we measured at four millimeters. The alien from the crown of its head to sole of its feet measures one millimeter."

"Okay. So an insect-size intelligent alien creature capable of sophisticated technology exists. How does it pose a threat to the empire?"

"It's extremely aggressive. If we're to believe the story that Natkin, the dead prisoner, told before he succumbed, it killed his partners and may have been responsible for the death of the corpses they discovered on derelict trader ship they had boarded. Apparently the aliens strike first and ask questions later, perhaps because of the enormous size difference between us and them. Now, we don't know for sure whether these aliens have space travel, but since they appeared aboard a ship not near any star system there's a good possibility that they're spacefarers. Also, the advanced technology of the flier tells the same story."

Cherbinski said, "That's why I've assembled you three to investigate this matter. We need to find out where the aliens came from, how they got on the ship the Hamstrung gang tried to hijack and whether communication with them is possible."

Northern rubbed his chin. "If they're insectoid and are like any insects that I'm familiar with, they communicate through the use of pheromones and body motions -- dancing. To initiate any sort communication with these creatures, we would need a robot scaled to their size that could give off pheromones."

Shem said, "Given sufficient resources, something like that could be built. But not quickly. I estimate several months to design and build it."

Cherbinski said, "I was promised all the resources I needed. Diane, get the project started at that nanotechnology lab you work for. Northern, you help with the design. However, we can't wait months to start our investigation. How long to simply get the robot project started?"

"A couple of weeks," Shem replied.

"Okay. I'll use resources available to me to locate that starship those criminals boarded. Once we've found where these insect people originate, we can send for the robot."

Meyer said, "I've talked to the people who interrogated Natkin's cell mate. From the information he gave them, we've got the coordinates of the cargo ship pinpointed. We believe it was owned by plasteel prospectors. I checked with OSA. The prospectors filed a starflight plan."

####

Three weeks later the investigation team boarded a military transport. In addition to themselves and the pilot, a contingent of twenty heavily armed space marines were aboard. Special armored space suits were brought along that were impenetrable to laser fire of the type used by the alien fighter plane. It took the transport seven months of space travel to catch up to the miners' ship which was traveling near the fringe of the Orion Empire.

A tractor beam was used to attach the ancient vessel to the transport. First to enter the abandoned ship were five marines. The science team waited outside the ship's airlock hatch, which, surprisingly, was wide open.

When Marine Sergeant Cook radioed back that the interior was in hard vacuum, Cherbinski said, "That's good. Everything aboard should be preserved as it was when the ship was boarded by the pirates. Also, hard vacuum may have killed any aliens aboard. I don't wish to encounter them until we're better prepared."

"All secured," Cook radioed.

The team entered the ship and went to the bridge. Two members of the Hamstrung gang lay crumpled on the deck. The prospectors who owned the ship lay in the acceleration couches, their faces burnt beyond recognition. The bridge was a mess. Laser burns, both macro and micro, were everywhere.

Meyer said, "It looks like the gang had a laser gun battle with the alien fighter planes. The gang's space suits are riddled with tiny holes. I'll have to examine the bodies, but it's likely that they died from affixation when their oxygen leaked out."

Diane Shem used a magnifying glass to locate the miniature aircraft scattered around. She carefully picked up each one with tweezers and dropped it into a plastic bag.

Once the forensic work was done, Cherbinski ordered the marines to store the corpses in lockers. The team moved on to explore the rest of the ship.

They found another corpse in the ship's freezer. It also had tiny laser burns all over it. Cherbinski said, "I know this man. He's an explorer by the name of Hachiro Kasumi. That was his ship in the cargo hold. Now, all we need to find out which the star system he'd been exploring. My hypothesis is that's the home world of the aliens."

####

Cherbinski's team circled star HD76756. They used the automatic recorder in Kasumi's starship to determine exactly which planet in the system he had been mapping. As soon as they went into orbit they started to receive an automatic distress signal. They pinpointed it and went into a geosynchronous orbit above that spot.

The four members of the team and six marines boarded the shuttle to go planetside. The pilot circled until they spotted crushed vegetation.

Cherbinski said, "Kasumi's shuttle must've made an emergency landing. Look, there it is." The sun reflected on something metallic far below.

They landed near an explorer class starship that had gotten beaten up by a forced landing. Cherbinski decided that he would take two marines with him when he went to investigate. He would be in radio contact with the rest of the team. The entrance to the shuttle was wide open, so Cherbinski led the marines through it. The interior was a mess. It looked as though the crash had caused a lot of damage. Cherbinski went through a hatch to Kasumi's laboratory. A start-stop buzzing came from somewhere in the busted up laboratory.

One of the marines asked, "What's that?"

"What we're looking for. Get out your weapons. We may be in for a fight." Cherbinski took out a special net. If the aliens did appear, he intended to catch one alive. The start-stop buzzing came from different sections of the bay. Finally, he spotted the alien craft; a black speck smaller than a mite landed on the counter next to the sink. "Gotcha," he cried as he quickly scooped it up before it could fly away. Carefully he transferred the minute jet plane to a specimen jar. As he stared at his catch, he felt a light touch on his cheek. As he brushed at it with his hand, he received a tiny burn on his hand.

He heard more buzzing. He glanced around. A whole cloud of tiny alien airplanes, like the one he caught, buzzed around him. Microscopic lights flashed on and off on them as though they were fireflies. Each time a light flashed, Cherbinski felt another tiny burn on his face. He called out, "Help. The aliens are attacking me." He swatted at them, but they were too quick and too numerous. They zoomed around his flailing arms and hands and kept firing the laser beams at him. The many tiny wounds took their toll. Cherbinski was in excruciating pain. He ran for the hatch to the cockpit, flung it open, threw himself through and slammed it. Too late. The cloud of alien warplanes were already attacking the marines whose weapons were next to useless against the tiny flyers. He was being burnt alive, a micrometer at a time.

####

The team aboard the shuttle heard Cherbinski's screams for help. They sent the rest of the marines dressed in the special body armor to rescue the men aboard the starship. They fought the alien fliers with laser beams as best they could as they removed the injured men. Cherbinski was in bad shape, with burns over fifty percent of his body. He and two wounded marines were sent up to the orbiting starship for medical treatment.

Meyer, Shem and Northern discussed the situation. Meyer said, "What do we do now? My impulse is the destroy Kasumi's ship. We dare not approach it."

"I disagree," said Northern. "If we destroy more of the alien aircraft hidden in the ship, we'll simply escalate the conflict. We must find a way to communicate with them."

"We've got the nanorobot," said Shem. "Let's try to use it to contact the aliens and arrange a cease fire."

They had the communication noncom contact the orbiting starship. After a few minutes, he turned to the team members and said, "There's trouble aboard the Mythic Chaos. Apparently, some of the alien fight planes were hidden within the wounded men's mouths, nostrils and ears. They're attacking the crew. Our marines are having a running battle with them."

"Tell them that we need that nanobot and the equipment that controls it. Have it sent down here by a probe missile."

####

The team waited with baited breath to hear how the battle aboard the mother ship was going. Meanwhile, the tiny probe with the nanobot was sent down. It took two hours to set up the virtual reality system that controlled the nanobot. They now had to find the aliens' center of population. They mounted a video camera with a telescopic lens on the probe and sent it flying over the area. In a few minutes it spotted an alien city close to the wrecked explorer starship. They parachuted the nanoprobe into an area ten centimeter outside the city.

Diane Shem put on her VR suit and helmet and switched on the unit. She now saw and heard what the nanobot saw and heard and could control its movements. Odors were converted to sounds which allowed Shem to hear the pheromones the ant-like creatures sent out. In a like manner when she spoke, her words were converted to smells. Northern had coached her about what motions might be useful in communicating with the aliens. What the tiny robot saw not only appeared in her goggles, but on a monitor so that the other members of the team could observe and comment.

To Shem, it was like being in a different world. The grasslike plants became tall trees; the dirt, a rocky surface; a native insect chewing on a plant, a ten-foot tall monster. She walked through the forest of grass stems which to her eyes were as tall as redwoods. Finally, in a clearing she saw it -- a city with tall towers. About a quarter of it, however, had been smashed to rubble.

Northern, sitting next to Shem in the carrier, remarked, "No wonder they attacked Kasumi. Apparently his ship had destroyed part of a city that he didn't even know existed."

Shem hiked toward the city. As she approached she saw that the alien's technology was as advanced as their own. Ground vehicles moved around on roadways and helicopter-like fliers filled the air. Soon she was among the aliens. A few stared at her, but did not approach. Others simply ignored her. The design of the nanobot was such that it resembled them, except that its exoskeleton was plastic.

Shem strolled along until she saw an alien in a uniform. She figured it for an authority figure, a policeman or a soldier. She approached it, spoke a few words and did a little dance. The uniformed one stared at her, released pheromones and did his own little dance. The smells were converted to sounds that made no sense.

Northern took notes. He watched carefully the motions and how they related to the sounds. He whispered into Shem's ear.

She tried what he told her to do. The alien remained puzzled. It took the nanobot by the arm and led it to a vehicle, forcing it to enter. Shem covered her microphone. "I'm being arrested," she told the team.

Meyer said, "Don't resist. During your incarceration, you can attempt communication with other prisoners and learn the alien's language."

Northern said, "Yes. I'm getting a feel for the rhythm and have learned a couple of words. Perhaps it would be better if I took over the nanobot."

Shem removed the virtual reality helmet and placed it on Northern. They quickly changed positions. Northern put his feet in the stirrups and donned the garments. By that time, the alien ground vehicle had reached its destination. The police alien pulled the nanobot roughly out of it.

The nanobot was put through an arrest procedure and thrown in a cell with three aliens. Northern tried to talk to them by pointing to objects and making the nanobot dance and emit smells. At first, the prisoners stared at the nanobot, but soon they realize that they had foreigner in their midst. One of them took pity and began to teach it their language. After several hours, Northern had learned to speak a pidgin version of it. He asked the helpful prisoner, "What happen me?"

"You will be taken to (a word Northern didn't understand). The (unknown) will assign/sentence you."

Northern assumed that meant that he was to be taken before a judge or a magistrate. He conferred with the team. They decided that he should learn as much of the language as possible before that happened. When he was brought before the judge, he should try to communicate that he was the representative of an alien race and should be taken to the highest authority.

####

Meanwhile aboard their starship, the battle with come to a standstill. The crew isolated the aliens fliers by forcing them into a bay that could be locked up. This victory was won at a terrible cost; there were many casualties. The two marines that had been with Cherbinski and several others had died. The wounded and dead had to be isolated and examined in excruciating detail to ensure that no aliens were hidden in any body cavity, their hair or the folds of their skin.

Even the bay into which the aliens were locked had to be watched carefully. The aliens weapons were powerful enough that over time they would break through the 7.5 cm. thick bulkhead.

The starship captain met with the lieutenant in charge of the marine contingent to decide what their next move should be. Although Cherbinski was still suffering and ill in his hospital bed, he was included in their strategy conference.

"Is there anyway of removing the air from the chamber where the aliens are hold up?" asked Lieutenant Hasleft.

"No, but we could pump poison gas through the ventilation system," replied Captain Morgan.

"Crap," cried Cherbinski. "I had forgotten about the air ducts. Our aliens may have already escaped the bay where we had them isolated. Put everyone on alert."

But the alarm was already sounding. A squadron of alien fighter planes were wrecking havoc in the crew quarters.

####

When the nanobot came before a judge, Northern learned that he was charged with insulting an officer of the law. Northern pleaded ignorance. He said that he was from a foreign land and could hardly speak their language. He said that he was sent here to contact someone in authority about a matter of the highest importance. At least that was what he hoped he had said.

The judge said, "Because you speak so badly, I have a tendency to believe your story. What is this matter that is so important that your masters sent you here?"

After consulting the other members of the team, Northern told the judge the truth, that he was a representative of the aliens who had destroyed their city and that he had come to negotiate a cease fire.

"I see. That is a subject of importance. I understand that several fighter pilots vanished after they retaliated. But you are our size. The alien that was killed was an enormous giant, larger than (unknown word)."

Northern tried to explain that the nanobot was especially built to contact them and negotiate.

"Well, this is beyond my authority. I will see that you are taken to the supreme council."

####

Eventually Northern was brought before this supreme council. It was difficult because of the language barrier, but he tried to explain everything, that destroying the city was an accident, what happened to their fighter pilots, that the Orion Empire only wished to live in peace with them and that perhaps a trade and exchanges of technology could be pursued.

The council conferred with each other for several minutes. Finally, their spokesperson said, "We are in favor of peace, but we do not wish to have further contact with aliens who can destroy a quarter of a city without noticing it. We will promise not to attack your masters as long as they stay away from this planet. This we will agree to, even if in the future a method of traveling into outer space is invented. We promise never to leave our star system if your masters agree to keep your citizens away."

Meyer radioed the mother ship with this information. He was happy to hear that the aliens aboard had succumbed when the humans aboard donned space suits and filled the ship with a gas that rendered the aliens unconscious. The downed pilots were carefully removed from their planes and locked up into a container which would be sent down the planet. Cherbinski told Meyer to tell Northern to agree to the terms set by the aliens. "As long as they hold up their part of the bargain, the empire is safe from them."

Northern passed the information to the alien authorities that they would agree to their terms.

####

When they arrived back on Olympus, the governing planet of the Olympian Empire, Cherbinski requested an audience with the grand emperor of the Orion Arm and told him all that had transpired. The emperor issued an order that system HD76756 was to be quarantined. No starship was to approach closer than three parsecs from that system. Anyone doing so would be subjected to fines and punishment. He also ordered that the star system be watched carefully. If the microscopic aliens ever decided to venture into space, they could pose a terrible threat to the empire.

THE END


© 2007 Joseph Vadalma

Bio: Joseph Vadalma was a technical writer at a major computer manufacturer. Several of his short stories have been published in E-zines, and his "The Morgaine Chronicles" dark fantasy novels have been sold to Renaissance E Books. Renaissance has also published two collections of his short stories, "The Sands of Time" and "Mordrake's Apprentice", two SF novels, "Star Tower" and "The Bagod", and a dark fantasy called "The Laws of Magic". These books are also available at Fictionwise. Delingers Publishing has published Joseph's science fiction novel, "The Isaac Project". "The Book of Retslu", a humorous fantasy, has just been published by Mundania. Mr. Vadalma's web site, The Fantastic World of Papa Joe, contains SF, fantasy and horror stories, serials, his blog and artwork. Joe is also a frequent contributor to Aphelion, with his most recent appearance being An Alien Encounter of the Worst Kind, January 2007.

E-mail: Joseph Vadalma

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