Klardt had trouble wrapping his mind around the test results he’d just seen on abductee Number 23. A task usually quite easy for him 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, two were synthetic—prototypes he’d designed himself—and one was a parasite named Maurice welded to his oversized forehead like a barnacle zit, trading ganglionic bandwidth for symbiotic sips of blood. Maurice was a little souvenir from their last campaign, an enormously rewarding raid on a rich and oh so exposed little planet in the Tressanak quadrant.

     But even with all that brainpower and extensive study in xenobiology, the NeuroPluck findings had him confused. He reviewed the results three times. Out of the fifty specimens abducted for study only one scan had come back peculiar. He ran diagnostics on the NeuroPluck, the device was in perfect working order.

     What are you, Number 23? Klardt mimed distractedly as he watched the NeuroPluck data once again, hoping the fourth viewing might spark new insight.  

     Klardt was a Weknard, a race of beings where intellect ranked above all else, eons of evolutionary pressure selecting intellect 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 skills 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 traversed 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 increased IQ 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 many of such leaning, he was driven by discovery and the fundamental onus to record data for future generations. His ambition was to compile a comprehensive field guide of sentient lifeforms across the universe. Specifically, class-five to class-eight organisms, a group that spanned the taxonomic spectrum from tool-makers to those just shy of intellectual enlightenment.  

     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 was nearly complete. 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.


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