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 quite easily, 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, having encounter with 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 their 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 4 to class 7 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 in person. It was a long trek 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. 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 feeling one bit. It was not only unpleasant but impeded his ability to clearly think. It felt like his brains were awhirl in some caustic cosmic vapor. And he knew it was a symptom of just how potentially dire this matter was. Though it had never happened before some of the heightened sensitivity may have been physiochemical bleed-over from having a symbiont stuck to his forehead, a known side-effect. 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. The unit held enough raw power to blow up the ship three times over. The thought gave Klardt a sudden shiver….
To be continued…