Fantasy Fiction posted July 1, 2022

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What happens when space parasites crash on a foreign planet?

A Parasite's Hope

by jp88

"A sack of meat," said Torgaz, prodding the two-legged creature's belly with his herding stick. The electrostatic discharge crackled in the dry, oxygen-rich air and the creature screamed, high-pitched and trembling, and fell to its knees. More than a hundred were lined up, under the careful watch of half-matured Spangolians who indulged in the first power complex of their long-to-be lives. The harsh sun bore down at them and Torgaus watched small beads of sweat drip from the creatures head.

A second creature stepped forward, as much as the restraints around its ankles would allow and glared at Torgaz. It opened its mouth and bellowed, and the Spangolian flinched - the harsh guttural sounds had the sensitive hairs in his long, black ears stand up.

"What to do, what to do," he wondered and looked over the assembled creatures, over to the spaceship that had brought them mere hours ago. The sleek, long, chromium-coated vessel had split in two when it harshly impacted Aerio IV's rocky surface, ragged lines demarcated the two halves. Pieces of equipment lay strewn around the site of impact, like pock scars on a juvenile's face. It was a wonder that the meat sacks had survived.

A Spangolian trotted over on his long legs, his four knees allowed him to keep a distance and hover over the creature simultaneously. Torgaz clicked his forked tongue and snarled at the messenger, try as he might to look imposing and imbued with authority, but the light blue rings around his eyes gave away his immaturity.

"There's not much to them, Sir," said the younger Spangolian and white spittle bleached the rusty earth. "Doc says maybe space parasites we haven't seen yet. Take what they find, he doesn't think they're intelligent enough to build the ship or make the clothes." He waved at the creature kneeling on the ground, bare torso heaving heavily and head bent. The silver-coloured suit that had once covered him like the scales covered the great lizards, was now ripped open and exposed faint skin and light-coloured hair. "No two the same," the younger Spangolian snorted and Torgaz followed his gaze over the space parasites. Skin fair or dark, hair in all shapes and lengths. "Doc thinks there's no intelligence there at all, can't even speak they can. Good for harvesting only if you'll so command."

Torgaz grabbed his pocket scanner and placed his rough, scaled thumb on the print reader. It awoke with a cheery beep and the long-haired, green-eyed space parasite who had assisted the other looked up, face contorted in a grimace that could mean anything. Space parasites visited Aerio IV regularly, the oxygen-rich atmosphere provided a rich feeding ground and the Spangolians were no strangers to eradicating them. They had encountered space parasites as small as microbes and as tall as the giant sloths that lived in the ancient forests - nothing about these was new.

Except - Torgaz bent down and grabbed the green-eyed parasite's chin, forced it up so he could look into those stormy eyes. They were different. The space parasite wiggled to escape the iron grip, but it posed no challenge to Torgaz. Barely anything was too strong for a full-grown Spangolian to handle, and he had won his fair share of fights and challenges over the years.

The scanner fed steady information through the implant over his cochlear bone as Torgaz moved it over the parasite's body. Bones of calcium - brittle. One heart - weak. Appendix - evolutionarily primitive. Two lungs - inefficient. High muscle mass - tasty, nourishing. Two eyes - 3D vision and something else. "Lazy evolution indeed," he thought. Package all vital organs into a bag of skin and hair and call it life.

The seasonal desert storms howled through the valley, and Torgaz wrapped his bright red leather coat tighter around the scaled chest. He wasn't cold and yet could not avoid shivering. He stepped closer to the creature and ever so carefully ran his index finger over the raised hairs, standing at attention over tiny bumps in the rosy flesh. The space parasite shivered and flinched, wrenching its arm away from the near-contact. Torgaz nostrils widened, the salty, tangy smell of fear made his cold blood jump a few degrees.

"No intelligence, hm?" he asked and he looked at the other space parasite - "female" supplied the scanner. Her eyes, and Torgaz felt himself zone into her, tuning out the disturbing howl of the wind and the younger Spangolian's too heavy breathing. Spangolian eyes were black, pitch-black without shades or depth and they were always void. It was said that their eyes only flashed with emotion once when they were seconds away from death, their soul came alive, and their fate had been decided - had their life been worth a good death? These eyes though, cylindrical swirls of emerald shades ran towards a centre in a deeper hew. Golden speckles popped up, like leaves on an inverted tree. He felt the pull at his navel, and a heavy fog descended on his brain. Eyes as the gateway to the soul, that is what the Old Wise One had said, but Spangolians hid their souls in the depth of their sturdy bodies, protected by a skeleton of heavy metal wrapped around it like a cage.

Torgaz watched the female with tunnel vision, everything but her head had become blurry and did not matter. She moved in slow motion, and fresh oxygen rushed into his lungs as she averted her gaze and concentrated on the other space parasite. "Male" said the scanner, but Torgaz paid him no attention. He shook his head but it did not work to fully clear the fog. His nostrils flared again. The aroma changed, gone was the salty seawater and replaced with chamomile and honeydew. Resistance and hope? Torgaz frowned. Why? Where had the fear gone and... Oh. Oh no.

"Doc is wrong," said Torgaz and he dropped his hands. He tapped the soft spot behind his ear, closed his eyes and opened his consciousness to the hive mind. "Doc," he thought and reached out to their most senior medical officer. The vibrations running through Aerio IV's core connected him with the rest of the tribe, and it didn't take him too long to identify Doc's frequency. "Doc, they are protected."

"They... what?" asked the younger Spangolian. Even with his eyes closed, Torgaz could tell from the tone that the blue rings around his eyes must have contracted and deepened in colour. The hive mind was a useful tool for communication, but far from private. "They're parasites, food. The scanner said so. We need it, the famines have..."

Torgaz held up his hand and the younger one stilled. "I know," he said and refocused on Doc's signature. A part of him wanted to agree with his younger kin, to send them off for slaughter but he could not. A parasite could not do what the female had done. It could help for the sake of its own survival, but it could not give hope.

"They have a soul. They are no parasites. We will not, we cannot harm a being with a soul. You know the law." He imbued the words with the image of the female's kaleidoscopic eyes.

Doc didn't respond immediately, and Torgaz focused on his own heartbeat, slow and steady and fit his breathing to the rhythm. The vibrations around him changed, they grew more rapid and erratic as the immature Spangolians got wind of his decision and grew uneasy.

When Doc finally answered it was without words, but the nod came through full and strong. A dark vibration shook the hive mind. Torgaz's arm shot forward in reflex but when he opened his eyes he realised that it was too late.

The younger Spangolian had his claw like hand wrapped around the male creatures throat. The creature's eyes were buldging in their sockets and he was struggling to breathe, his hands were clawing at the iron grip with no success. The Spangolian bared his fangs. "They are food," he hissed.

Torgaz didn't hesitate. His right leg shot forward and he kicked against the younger one's right kneecap and followed it up with another kick against his jaw. The other Spangolian howled and fell. The female creature grabbed the male one's arm and dragged him out of harm's reach.

The young Spangolian tried to get up but Torgaz placed his foot right on the vulnerable soft skin over the trachea. "No, he growled. "My decision is final." His adversary managed the tiniest of nods.

Torgaz knelt down as far as his knees allowed and locked eyes with the female. The haze was gone and his mind cleared, he had made the right decision. "Spangolian," he said, articulating every letter, every hissing sound and pointed at his chest.

The female frowned, her eyes contracted and then quickly went from the herding stick in his hand to his face. Torgaz dropped the herding stick, the electric crackling disappeared with the blue discharge of energy as it hit the ground. "Spangolian", he repeated and pointed at himself first and then the scowling younger one.

Something happened to the creature's mouth as it widened slightly, and the corners tugged up. She pointed at the male one on the ground and then at herself. "Human," she said.

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