Abductee #23 (a short story)
Klardt had trouble wrapping his mind around the test results he’d just seen on abductee #23. Which was something he usually managed with ease, since he had sixteen of them.
One brain was his, of course, a massive multi-lobed hunk of gray matter that even without augmentation made him one of the most intelligent beings in the universe. Of his other brains, twelve had been absorbed from lower life forms over the years, two were synthetic—prototypes he’d designed himself—and one was a parasite named Maurice welded to his oversized forehead like a barnacle zit, symbiotically trading its ganglionic bandwidth for the occasional sip of blood.
This was all customary for Klardt, a calling in essence. He was a Nuronian, a race of beings where intellect ranked above all else, eons of evolutionary pressure selecting brainpower over physique, feelings or carnal appeal. And as lead scientist aboard the most profitable—and arguable most exalted—reaper spaceship currently combing the universe, Klardt felt compelled to enrich those cognitive abilities by any means. He considered it an obligation to his trade and, tasked with the study of such a vast and varied array of creatures as they surveyed the cosmos, it only made sense. Knowledge is power, he said to himself, using the lexicon of the species currently under evaluation. It not only made him better at the job and incidentally fed the edict of niche, but the augmented I.Q. also allowed him greater understanding of the never-ending procession of creatures unearthed as part of the ship’s prospecting.
Their mission was one of commercial pursuit, wealth and treasure the bottom line. All of that was fine with Klardt, he understood the anatomy of economics. And over the years he had reaped great reward himself. But he was still a scientist. And as with most of such leaning, he was driven by the ambition of discovery and the fundamental onus to record data for future generations. His thing, was to compile a comprehensive field guide of sentient lifeforms across the universe. Specifically, class 5 to class 8 organisms, a group that spanned the taxonomic spectrum from tool-makers to those just shy of truly enlightened.
It was a side gig, and he made sure it never interfered with the primary mission. The captain was a creature of hard bearing, had little interest for pursuits beyond duty. Fortunately for Klardt, he was able to manage both without overlay. He had unlimited access to reports on every organism studied and plenty of down time between intergalactic jumps to collate said data into intelligible format. The effort had been going on for the better of his life, and his tome of work was nearing completion. He’d seen all manner of life along the way, cataloging creatures with traits and capabilities ranging from bizarre to wonderous…and all points in between. Yes, he’d thought he’d seen it all, every conceivable mutation of amazing and permutation of strange…until today.
…Until he’d seen abductee number 23.
Klardt stepped out of the lab and into the main corridor, heading toward the bridge to see the captain and deliver his report. The corridor was devoid of activity, most of the crew in their rooms resting should they be called to action. It was a long trek to the bridge but he decided to walk. Passing up the comfort of the gravi-track or expedience of the tele-pod. The extra time would afford him the occasion to sort his thoughts before meeting with the captain. And perhaps work off some stress.
Ordinarily, neither was a problem for Klardt. His ability to organize thought and disgorge reports was stout, and he was generally not inclined to emotional fluctuation. Over the ages, his species had largely shed the whimpers of limbic as the encumbrance it was. The squeeze of grief was as alien to him as was the embrace of joy. He’d never felt confidence because he possessed no insecurities. But today, suddenly, he felt…and what he felt was fear.
He didn’t like the sensation one bit. It was not only unpleasant but impeded his ability to clearly think. He blew out a sigh as he paced the long empty corridor, felt woefully out of sync, like his sixteen brains were awhirl in an unstable orbit of thought. It was a clear indication of just how potentially dire this matter was. He knew that much of the sudden sensitivity was likely from physiochemical bleed-over, a known side-effect of having a symbiont stuck to his forehead. Maurice the parasite was a class 5 species, fairly intelligent but also a simmering cauldron of emotion.
Hooking a left onto the main corridor, he almost thought to reach up and rip the little bugger out. See if it wouldn’t clear his head and sharpen his thoughts. But as he considered it further, he decided against it. Given his normally poised demeanor and the fact that the captain was light-years from the most woke being in the galaxy, maybe a little emotional edge would be advantageous as he presented his case.
Passing mid-ship Klardt could hear the thumping whir of the pulse-drive turbines even through the triple-thick insulated ramparts. Veering off the main walkway, out of view from any overhead surveillance, he leaned an ear to the wall and listened. He could feel as much as hear the energy as it chugged to its physics. Though ably secured and very safe, the unit held enough raw energy to incinerate the ship three times over. The thought gave Klardt a sudden jolt of anxiety. Another feeling he didn’t like, the sensation as displeasing as it was unfamiliar, a shiver of vulnerability speeding through him on the back end. It was the same queasy intestinal upheaval he felt as he reviewed the NeuroPluck footage on abductee #23. Pushing from the wall he got back on the main walkway, continued to reflect on the matter as he resumed his journey topside.
He’d viewed the NeuroPluck recordings just a short while ago, and in that time his sixteen brains had worked the equation to death. The footage was beyond amazing. Given his vast experience, he recognized right away how important the find of such a unique creature would be to his study. Abductee #23 was his ticket to renown, would be the centerpiece of his work. #23’s range of ability and boundless powers were traits of legend. The potential downstream science was endless; so much to compute, question and learn.
But those considerations were quickly dismissed, prioritized to nil by the immediate enormity of the situation. If he didn’t manage to convince the captain to drop any plans of incursion and peaceably move on to the next prospective planet on their list, nothing would matter. Not science, not standing. Not duty or money…
…Because they’d all be dead.
To Klardt the math was easy, a simple equation really. Even sludged with emotion his stream of logic was sound. Attack this world and they’d all be destroyed—boom. You didn’t need to be a rocket scientist or class 9 enlightened to figure it out. But there were two factors that would muddy the math—greed and doubt. And together they’d make conveying that equation to the captain less than simple.
Arriving at the bridge, the tall bulkhead portal slid open with a hiss. Klardt slowed and drew a deep breath as he entered, exhaling with purpose as he stepped through to bring his sixteen brains into geosynchronous thought.
“Captain Ghreek-oh,” Klardt said with a nod. The captain was huddled around a large flat-screen with two of his underlings. Planning the raid, no doubt.
“Yes, Klardt,” the captain said, lifting from his discussion.
“We need to talk…”