Dualalalop seeped back and forth along the back partition of the forward control orb. The fronds that cascaded down Dualalalop’s back quivered in anticipation. Around the bulky translucent Prime Axon, his crew sat, hunched, and dangled intently, each one’s attention focused on the tendrils sprouting from the ivory rib-stations before them.
“They’re late,” Dualalalop’s pheromone emitters communicated. The chemical expression of his frustration was captured by the ship translated into a dozen different modes of communication, and then passed along the tendrils that wrapped around and through the crew’s heads. “Detector Prime, give me a full active scan.”
“Sir?” The crewmember reclining at the Detector Tendril tapped along its breast ridge. It was a huge risk. Active scans would reveal their own location, but so far passive scan had turned up nothing. Either the Conglomerate’s informants had fed them false information – in which case Prime Axon Dualalop would personally see to it they spent a generation basking in the chloride baths on Mididianite Secundus – or the blasted Hryrnos were running cloaked. If they weren’t there, then active scans wouldn’t put them in any danger. But if they were, then it would ruin the element of surprise, and the Prime Axon’s ambush would revert to a ship-to-ship quick draw.The Pustule Commands were on high alert, Dualalalop didn’t need to check in with them again. “Something wrong with your tendril,” Dualalop emitted, adding the piquant underscent that turned the gas into a query.
“No. No, Prime Axon,” the bony little crewmember replied. His second limbs tapped out a hesitant reply upon its communication ridge, even as its upper gripper limbs sent queries to the Visual and Peripheral Nerves. Each department responded immediately, and the glossy, organic ship flared bright orange and shook with a thrumming heard by those with audio receptors and felt by those with tactile receptors.Instantly, a hot pink glow lit up the glistening floor down and to Dualalalop’s left.
“Gotchya,” shouted Dualalalop. He shook a roil of ectoplasm and seeped back to his station. “Ventral Pustules, unleash!” His vacuoles tightened, savoring the rush of endorphotropics. The Hryrnos blockade runners could run or they could hide, but not both. The Conglomerate’s embargo on the Hryrnos had been costly, but worth it. The Hryrnos refused to accede to their demands to join the powerful syndicate of sentient races, ridiculously claiming that the Conglomerate was a rump organization completely controlled by the Oonoones. They were right, of course, but as an Oonoone itself, Dualalalop’s fronds shuddered at the effontry of pointing it out. Of all the aliens they’d ever forced to willingly join the Conglomerate, only the Hryrnos had the cytoplasm to openly state such a thing.The embargo hadn’t worked out well at all. A number of Junior-Equals among the Conglomerate traded with the Hryrnos under the Oonoones’ membrane, forcing this wasteful blockade of the Hryrnos’ system. After dozens of degrees of the galactic standard planetary orbit had passed, the Hryrnos had started sending out small packet ships to run the blockade, which had forced the Conglomerate to spend even more ships on the effort, but the Oonoones weren’t the Senior-Equal race for nothing. They had spies everywhere, and Dualalalop himself had met the two-body hive-mind K’k’reeet and plied it/them with soporifics as reward for the secret to the Hryrnos secret to escaping their home system undetected.
The spinward ejecta. It had been so simple once it/they explained. The heat emitted by the plasma ejected from the star at the center of the system’s poles foiled all but the most powerful active scans. The Hryrnos had been using the spinward ejecta as a secret dorsal channel.
But he had them now. Coaxing the ship into the ejecta cloud had taken a bit of patience. Naturally, it resisted approaching the radiant heat of the ejecta cloud, but Central Nervous had eased it along with a deft touch, and so they had turned the tables on the Hryrnos. They had them under their membrane, sitting scootpods. His fronds swept back and forth in mirth.But nothing happened.
It seeped to the Prime Axon’s station and sorbed the stringy tendrils that tied it to the ship’s nervous system. “Ventral pustules, what’s going on down there,” its pheromones hissed.“Sorry, Prime,” a voice hooted through the tendril, “we’ve got chem shorts all over the place.”
“Give me an active pulse.”“Aye, aye,” came the hollow tapping reply.
This time the hot pink glow was muted and behind Dualalalop. Its vacuoles ached with anger. The spawn of an unsplit sac had slithered right out from under them. They’d had them, and they still escaped. The Medula Oblongganglia were going to be furious, they might even strip it of command if it didn’t have a viscous excuse.“Ventral pustules, status?”
A pause. “You better get down here,” the Pustule Command hooted.Dualalalop pushed through the control orb sphincter and seeped down through the branching crew vessels and valves of the living ship. Twice, it noted small forms diving into the canaliculi that gave the rigid bone structure of the ship its stability. Disgusting little things, they were a nuisance the galaxy over. In the last 20 years, they’d gone from unknown to ubiquitous. Just one of the many little hassles of modern life, Dualalalop considered.
Angrily, it stopped to sorb one caught out in the open beneath the millions of vili it used to propel itself along the muscus slicked floor. Vindictive and pointless, but it eased the ache in its vacuoles a bit. If it couldn’t catch a Hryrnos ship, at least it could catch a few of those.Down in the Ventral Pustule chamber its worst suspicions were confirmed. It was the little two-legged vermin infesting the ship. The Immunity Teams were already on-site and had sliced a ship’s membrane open, revealing that the spongy tissue carrying information and fluids to and from Ventral Pustules was riddled with tunnels just big enough for the vermin. Evidence of the damage they’d done was everywhere. They’d sliced through vessels, siphoned off the reactive fluids that gave the Pustules their destructive capability, and escaped…
Wait a microdegree.What could they possibly do with the reactives?
“Ventral Pustule Command,” Dualalalop emitted. “How much reactive fluid do you have remaining?”“Let me check,” the rangy simian hooted. After a moment of consultation with three different tendrils, he turned back to the Prime Axon, his tri-lobed eyes hooded with surprise. “About half.”
“Great Mathematical Construct,” flared the chemical speech of Dualalalop. “That's enough to melt half the ship's membranes! Well, that explains how they carve their little tunnels. Do what you can to repair the damage, we’ll put the ship in for a full hycolonic when we get back to Fleet Cranial Tumor Delta.”Back in the central orb, the ship’s Immunity Chief told Dualalalop that wouldn’t do any good. “Fleet can’t figure out how to get rid of them,” the Chief’s bulging forehead flared in the coruscating colors that it used to communicate. “Gas doesn’t work, nor psi-emitters, nor even psi-emitters, and the hookhunters that catch most vermin?” The chief hung its head down in exasperation.
“Yes,” Dualalalop pressed.
“They kill them and eat them.”
Dualalalop felt queasy. “That’s disgusting. They breed like aaoooaa, mature in Oonoonian days, and can only be killed by physically rooting them out by hand.”“It gets worse,” the chief flashed. “They drink the reactives.”
“Indeed. I wouldn’t rustle your fronds about this. They drink the reactives," the chief paused and waved a shovel fingered hand to clear Dualalalop's flatulent expressing of shock and disgust. "It’s true. They've been observed in lab conditions. Even bathe in it, once you pry them out of their shells. High Cranium is concerned enough to have launched a full study. They’re desperate to figure out a way to keep them from spreading, but so far no luck. The filthy things just keep getting into everything. A few even escaped from the labs on Wooluxis Twenty-Two, and now their whole Planetary Cranial Complex is overrun with them, the poor wretches.”
“That’s awful. Where’d the come from?”
“A couple of Silverships picked up a few dozen from their home planet – a backwater – for pets. The clever little beasts they got out into the systems, and now are spreading like a virus.”
“Can we just eviscerate the planet? Set up a core-fusion?”
“No point,” the chief flashed. “They can’t leave their planet without somebody picking them up. We’d be free of them if they weren’t picked up. Those Silverships were always too curious for anyone’s good.”
“So we just have to learn to live with them?”
“For now, but we'll figure something out. We’re the Conglomerate. We beat back the Great Hive, the Co-Dependency Republic, and the Insular Reformation. We can deal with a few little primates.”
“Even their name sets my vili on edge,” Dualalop's pheromones emitted. Its fronds shuddered as it thought, “Earthlings. Disgusting.”