It wasn’t until after dawn that the wings of the cocoon unfolded. Ostensibly this was the first sign that anything was actually happening, although the craft had been monitoring various electromagnetic frequencies for some time. A data-squirt had arrived from the mothership with a mission update including a hack-patch to allow the pilot to interface with local operating systems. The onboard computer started processing the information available and put together a languages pack and location specific briefing information. It also sent files to the onboard synthesiser to start producing the equipment that might be required: clothing, interface patches, documentation for a legend – the usual.
The pilot got its first look of (another) alien sky. Slightly bluer than it was used to: it prompted the computer to check for nutritional requirements and whether there would need to be any supplements to adjust for the predominant frequencies of light. It released itself from the webbing that constrained it in the pilot’s seat. Anyone who had been passing, who happened to be able to speak grzzt, would have been able to discern some muttered imprecations. These mutterings mainly related to having been uncomfortably squished into a seat meant for a completely different species, and that just because it was a shapeshifter, it didn’t mean it should have to put up with this sort of thing. Mind you, a casual passer-by probably wouldn’t have noticed all of this, being distracted by the form that flowed over the lip of the cockpit, disdaining the retractable ladder-rungs that had automatically deployed when the wings of the canopy had unfolded. Reaching the ground, the shape flowed into a perfect sphere about half a metre in diameter and rolled along the side of the craft.
A hatch popped open in the side of the craft. Things started to drop into the hopper as they were manufactured: trousers, a top, a hat, dark glasses…
More grumbling, the grzzt equivalent for: “What the…?”
Some kind of appendage extended from the spherical alien and reached out to the trousers which it held up in a rather disdainful manner before bringing them close and flowing into them. The same was done for shoes – the creature didn’t bother undoing the Velcro straps but just extended the ‘legs’ from the end of the trousers and pulled them into place. By the time the process was complete, the sphere had become a reasonable approximation of a small human being. Dark glasses and a beanie hat disguised the ‘face’, for the most part.
A canvas back-pack dropped into the hopper, followed by various bits and pieces that were hastily stuffed into it. A couple of things, one which looked vaguely pistolesque, were held up for inspection.
“Nah.” They were tossed into a receptacle next to the hopper.
Finally, a device on a strap appeared, and this was placed on a, for want of a better word, wrist. A string of symbols flowed across the screen. Something vaguely finger-like on what was approximately a hand curled back over itself and swiped the screen off. In response, a warning sound issued from the craft and a message, in grzzt, played:
“Alert. Field pack incomplete. Please collect standard issue armament.”
If the pilot had been familiar with Earth idiom, it would probably have sucked its teeth, if it had any, at this point. But it wasn’t and it didn’t so it just ignored the message, and went back to checking through the kit in the back-pack, making sure it had everything it wanted. What might have been a sigh issued from somewhere that might have been a face. It left the pack by the open hatch and walked back to the cockpit. It swung itself up the ladder in a long-armed simian fashion, disdaining to use its legs. Leaning over the lip of the cock-pit it pressed a button and something that looked a lot like a tablet computer detached from the cock-pit console. It lowered itself by one…arm, and then jumped the rest of the way to the ground. Digits flew across the screen as it programmed something. By the time it made its way back to the synthesiser’s hopper, a new thing had appeared. It looked a lot like a plaster and it immediately slapped it onto its…head, about where an ear should have been. The tablet was tucked into the backpack, which was itself heaved onto a shoulder.
The hatch over the hopper was closed. The message from earlier was repeated, this time much more muffled. The pilot tapped the watch and transmitted an authorisation code: the wings folded back automatically and, simultaneously the ladder retracted. A nozzle released quick-crete over the whole cocoon making it appear to be just another rock. The quick-crete was permeable to a range of gases, as well as being an efficient absorber of selected parts of the EM spectrum (some of the visible spectrum, tailored so that the coated cocoon would match other rocks in the area, some other bands, but not too many from any one part of the spectrum – should anyone come snooping around then it wouldn’t appear that this ‘rock’ was absorbing unusually large amounts of energy). This energy powered the transformation of the absorbed gases into the required reaction mass, powered various systems that would keep the spacecraft safe and secure, and charged the energy storage systems. And if things went terribly wrong with the mission, in a couple of years’ time, if the ‘rock’ was still here, then the accumulated energy would be catastrophically released, turning the rock to its component atoms.
The day was starting to warm up (getting the electrochemical processes off to a flying start: the pilot headed off down the mountainside.
© David Jesson, 2019
During 2019, I’m going to be undertaking a writing experiment, as described here.
The shape of story was formed through a four-part prologue: the first part of the prologue is here, if you want to start right at the beginning. All through, I’m hoping that you’ll help me shape the story. At various points, I’ll be asking questions with a choice of answers. I’ll be polling on Twitter, or you can add a comment below. So for example, you’ve helped me to decide that the story is science fiction, our protagonist, who is a rogue with a dash of ranger, is an alien, but the story is set on Earth.
Without giving too much away, the protagonist is piloting the craft that has just landed in the Brecon Beacons National Park. Last month the consensus was that the MC is retrieving something: we’ll be coming back to that later. Right now, our MC has collected their field pack and is walking away from their spaceship. Are they:
Option 1: Heading into town (local)?
Option 2: On their way to the big city?
Option 3: Heading further into the countryside?
I‘ll leave the Twitter poll open for one week, and will add in any votes on here that come in during that time. Feel free to expand on the options in the comments! I’m not promising to incorporate anything but always good to hear where you think this is heading!
See you next month!