PERIL OF THE LAMPEROSA by Michael Dority
© Brian Thomas
 
I
 
“Welcome to Kolasi, Doctor.” Captain Administrator Nathan Winter extended a hand to the new arrival.
 
Dr Braxton brusquely evaded his outstretched hand. She glanced behind to observe the next traveller emerging from the shifting void of the mass converter. 
 
“Captain Winter,” she said, turning, “This is my colleague, Dr Meadows. He’ll be assisting me in my duties.” 
 
Employing his painstakingly acquired skills as a diplomat, the Captain took careful stock of the two. His assessment was thus:
 
Braxton was younger than he’d expected—considerably so. Her list of accomplishments in the fields of developmental psychology and psionics were myriad, her achievements in the rarefied air of scientific academia legendary. She only looked half the part. Slender and provincial looking, she resembled the stereotype of a bookish female scientist, her face angular with brown eyes set closely together and a chin line that was almost severe. Her dark hair clung closely to a pale forehead. Under loosely tailored business garb, her wan form revealed no hint of femininity. Oddly enough, she had an air of clumsiness about her (suggesting a certain amount of social insecurity?) and although it was difficult to determine her age with any certainty, Winter wondered how a woman who couldn’t possibly be over the age of thirty had contrived to distinguish herself as the preeminent expert in her chosen fields of study.
 
Meadows was an unsavoury sight to behold. He was short and a tad on the pudgy side. Outwardly, he bore little resemblance to the kind of person one might expect to hold the distinguished title of the world’s foremost authority on xenobiology. Winter guessed perfunctorily, and more or less rightly, that he was overly fond of the fruits of the culinary arts as well as those of the grape. Still, the light of intelligence shone brightly through his bloodshot eyes. (Something else was also revealed in the corners of his mouth... Was it mirth?) 
 
—No matter. The Captain would have adequate time to observe them and further analyse their behaviour during their one-week stay on Kolasi. For now, it seemed more apropos to exercise the amenities of his office and settle his two guests into their respective quarters as comfortably as possible.
 
“Welcome, Dr Meadows,” said the Captain. “Please allow me to show you to your compartments. Do you require refreshments?”
 
In return, Braxton shot him a reproachful glance. “Captain Winter, I’m sure you’re aware of the scientific principle behind our method of transportation. Why should we recuperate? It was nothing.”
 
The Captain thought ‘She’s curt… to a fault.’ Then, aloud to Braxton “As you wish. I suppose you’re right. There’s no more need for the trials of space travel in the inhabited quadrants, however remote. Why should you be weary when you’ve only just arrived from Earth?”
 
These days, there was little need for bulky starships and their cumbersome landing grids, beacons and generators. These were now reserved primarily for military applications, deep space missions and occasional touring parties for those with somewhat eclectic, yet necessarily expensive, tastes.
 
There was a mass converter, similar to the one through which Drs Braxton and Meadows had recently emerged, on most explored worlds in the known galaxy. Once installed, it provided a quick and efficient means of transporting from the beacon of any mass converter to that of another. 
 
Unlike older short-range transporter technology, this was a method of travelling through normal space without the fuss of decomposing an object into its particulate components, and then reassembling it at its destination. The key to the mass converter’s operation lies in what was once termed the “God particle” by the popular media (or Higgs boson to the scientific community at large), the subatomic particle that gives mass to electrons and quarks. This theory was proven in the early 21st Century. However, it wasn’t until a particularly sharp crayon back on 24th Century Earth realized it was possible to cause a catalytic dimensional shift in God particles by exposing them to a subspace beam undergoing a corresponding phase shift that its full potential was realized. (Subspace beams had previously been used as beacons to call starships out of warp drive or communicate effectively across great distances in the vast recesses of space.)
 
This precipitous discovery culminated in two heretofore unknown phenomena. First, when reacting to a subspace beam with a 90-degree phase shift, the God particles in matter shifted (or unfolded) into the fourth dimension and the objects became weightless. Hence, anti-gravitation was discovered. Moreover (and more importantly), God particles exposed to a subspace ray shifted by 180 degrees caused those objects—already at zero mass—to propagate along a geometric path at any distance from the source of the subspace beam using the beam itself as a carrier wave. Because infinite velocity is possible for a particle at zero mass (and since subspace beams coincidentally travel at the same rate) objects catalysed and converted in this manner travel instantaneously to the beam’s destination in normal space, where they are phase shifted first to stationary zero mass (with no concomitant inertia to overcome), then dimensionally back to their normal subatomic properties. Conceptually and on the top level, it was nearly as simple as this, although certain catastrophic anomalies could occur if the proper buffers and filters weren’t in place to prevent what could otherwise be uncontrolled cascade effects in the surrounding space.
 
Like 99% of the human race, Winter only understood the principle in broad, sweeping terms. The practical approach was good enough for him. Give him form, fit and function over dry theory and cold field equations any day.
 
 
II
 
Not that the Captain wasn’t a thoughtful man; nothing could be further from the truth. He was a deeply contemplative, even insightful, person. It was he who had first recognized the importance of establishing diplomatic relations with the indigenous life forms of Kolasi. The Lamperosa were strange, amorphous creatures—perhaps only alive in the loosest possible sense—about which very little was known.
 
So completely alien were the Lamperosa that it was impossible to discern their appearance with the naked eye. Photographic images were taken of them in all possible spectrums of light. Yet, nothing was any clearer than the peculiar shimmering effect reproduced on the human retina in visible light. The radio frequencies were explored—both short and long—but with even less success. Only indistinguishable blobs were observed on the developed plates. What to do next? No one really knew. 
 
That night an emergency conference was called. In attendance were Captain Winter, Drs Braxton and Meadows, the Captain’s son William (the Ambassador to Kolasi) and William’s ex-wife, Ariel Wald. A full transcript of that meeting follows:
 
 
III
 
Capt. Winter: Good evening. I trust you’re all settled in and prepared to address the immediate problems confronting us?
 
Dr Braxton: I am not so certain your problems are immediate in nature, Captain Winter. I have been reading your progress reports on a regular basis for over five years. I am prepared to render a certain number of educated guesses and less certain surmises, if you don’t mind.
 
Dr Meadows: And what if he does?
 
Dr Braxton: That is for him to say, not you. 
 
Capt. Winter: Speak your mind, Doctor. It’s why you’re here.
 
Dr Braxton: Are you sure?
 
Capt. Winter: Doctor, we’ve only just met. Nonetheless, I feel safe in saying there is no point in any further pretence. Give me some credit. I’m a fair judge of character.
 
Dr Braxton: Very well. I will speak freely then… 
 
Capt. Winter: I expect no less.
 
Dr Braxton: We are all quite aware of the irregular nature of the situation in which we presently find ourselves. If there was any other set of circumstances related to an alien presence in the known universe more profound than this one, I wouldn’t be here. There isn’t.
 
Dr Meadows: That’s an understatement.
 
Capt. Winter: Go on, Braxton.
 
Dr Braxton: Very well. I will speak factually and no more. Some twenty five Earth years past, it was determined—and through no collaboration with the psychological guild or psionics corps—that your son, William Winter, then but an infant of twenty-seven days, would serve as honorary Ambassador to Kolasi and the Lamperosa species… 
 
Dr Meadows: Ohnow, it was the best possible compromise at the time. Surely you agree?
 
Dr Braxton: It was expedient, there’s no doubt. Still, if I or my duly authorized representatives had been consulted at the time… 
 
Capt. Winter: Please, let’s focus on the situation at hand, not as it was twenty five years ago.
 
Dr Braxton: We may as well. Ambassador William Winter, you were chosen to represent humanity on Kolasi because your mind didn’t yet conform to all the traditions, idioms and idiosyncrasies engrained in the psyche of the homo sapiens species. It was hoped that your somewhat unique perspective—a blank slate upon which to impress the sensibilities of an alien race—would shed light on the enigma that are the Lamperosa. I have read the pertinent reports, but perhaps you would care to expound on your progress?
 
Amb. Winter: The predicament we face is rather complex. Perhaps more so than the official briefings you have access to would imply. Maybe it would be best to meet the Lamperosa. Then we can be more forthright in explaining the unique challenges we’ve encountered in recent months.
 
Ms. Wald: My apologies, but William is right. We can’t satisfactorily address this subject in an impromptu staff meeting. There are certain… nuances. They can’t be ignored.
 
Dr Braxton: Who are you?
 
Capt. Winter [annoyed]: Don’t ask. She’s here for a reason.
 
Dr Braxton: Do you share her opinion, Captain Winter?
 
Capt. Winter: Yes.
 
Dr Braxton: If you insist, Mr. Ambassador. Will tomorrow be too soon to move forward with the project?
 
Capt. Winter: They’ve become… antagonistic.
 
Dr Braxton: Or violent. [pause] We’re here to help.
 
Capt. Winter: The sooner the better, then. Good night.
 
 
IV
 
The foliage of Kolasi lay thick and lush on the planet’s surface. It covered almost 90% of Kolasi’s available land mass. Nearly two thirds of this area was very similar in climate to Earth’s subtropical forests; the polar ice caps were relatively small in comparison.
 
Braxton, Meadows, Ariel and the Captain stood at the edge of the compound, peering into the heavy underbrush. Visibility was limited to only a few metres.
 
The Captain cleared his throat. “Perhaps a recap is in order.”
 
“Perhaps that would be best,” replied Braxton. “My focus has necessarily been on the last five years of progress reports, due to my professional interest in events that have transpired during that time. I would hardly expect those reports to be exhaustive and I am fully aware this project spans almost two decades of research, analysis and scientific exploration.”
 
“Yes, well… ” the Captain continued, “I’ll try to include the salient highlights as I see them, which I suppose is about as astutely as anyone can. Ariel and William are free to interrupt at any time.”
 
“I will stop you there, Captain,” Braxton said, glancing at Ariel. “Why is this woman here?” Ariel bristled, purposely averting the other woman’s eyes.
 
“Uhm… are you and she acquainted? I’m not sure I understand the gist of your question,” the Captain replied with growing impatience.
 
Braxton gave Ariel a sidewise glance and continued in an unctuous tone, “Forgive me, my dear. I meant no offense. I’m merely confused. My question is, what—specifically—qualifies her to be on this expedition? The roles of Captain Winter and his son are well defined within the context of the mission. Hers… is not.”
 
“What you must forgive,” Meadows interjected, “is my colleague’s bluntness and her obvious shortcomings in the social graces. She is, for all intents and purposes, a lab rat and doesn’t get out much.”
 
“Shut up, Meadows,” Braxton huffed.
 
“Tsk-tsk!” chortled Meadows, shaking his finger at Braxton while glancing sideways at the Captain. “You see?....”
 
Ariel regarded Meadows curiously and made a mental note.
 
The Captain cleared his throat again, loudly. “Ariel is William’s ex-wife.”
 
“Captain, I fail to grasp—”
 
The Captain cleared his throat even louder, this time in an almost menacing fashion. “Dr Braxton, you have only a week here. In the scheme of things, that isn’t very long. I can’t guarantee success within that time frame, or any other for that matter. But I can assure you we stand little chance of making a breakthrough on this project without establishing some kind of social rapport more conducive to frank and open discourse between us. As a matter of fact, Ariel has more field time logged with the Lamperosa than anyone else on this dismal planet except for William himself. She’s a first-rate scientist in her own right as well as a subject matter expert. I would greatly appreciate it,” his tone grew tense, “if you’d grant her some modicum of respect. As you yourself said, you are here to help.”
 
“I suppose now we know who’s in charge of this expedition,” Meadows retorted smugly.
 
“Regardless of whom you may be addressing, I expect the same common courtesies from you, Dr Meadows. Please keep the calculated airs of self-satisfaction to yourself.”
 
Braxton grinned wryly but maintained a guarded silence. Only the quiet rustling of the underbrush could be heard as the Captain began his narrative.
 
“I’m not certain how this was represented off-world, but the historic event that occurred twenty five years ago wasn’t simply the unprecedented designation of an infant as the first ambassador to the Space Territory of Kolasi, but an exchange of diplomats of whom my son William was the human counterpart. At the same time, the Lamperosa presented us with a dark crystalline object we at first theorized was geological in nature.”
 
“Was it?” Meadows asked.
 
“No. It grew…  Not much—only a few millimetres a day at first, then—”
 
“You mean,” Braxton exclaimed, “it was alive?”
 
The Captain continued, “As alive as any Lamperosa. The suspicions of our Chief Medical Officer were eventually confirmed, albeit posthumously. It was into his personal care that the Lamperosa embryo was originally entrusted.”
 
Ariel momentarily stiffened. This time it was Meadows who took notice.
 
“Anyway, to compress a long story even further, it was hoped that my baby son’s prolonged exposure to the Lamperosa and similar exposure of their embryo to the humans at the compound would enable each subject to grow accustomed to the other’s environment. We hoped to close the communication gap between the two species in this way—”
 
“Captain Winter,” Braxton interrupted, “I note your use of the term ‘subject.’ So, this was some grand experiment using your son as a guinea pig?” 
 
The Captain took a deep breath. “You know, Dr Braxton, if I hadn’t already been made painfully aware of your penchant for saying precisely the wrong thing at the wrong time, I might be put off by your jibes. It so happens, though, that’s literally true. I think you’ll find during the course of this expedition the choice I made was not only justified, but inescapable.
 
“Follow me.” The Captain unceremoniously stepped into the dense foliage surrounding the camp. 
 
“Wait,” called Braxton. “Where are we going?”
 
“Where else?” the Captain called back to her, “To examine the Lamperosa.”
 
“It’s about time… ” 
 
Braxton’s voice trailed off suddenly as the party disappeared into the underbrush.
 
 
V
 
“Wait a moment,” said Braxton as they wound their way through the heavy forest, leaving trampled leaves and bent branches in their wake. “Didn’t you say the Lamperosa had acquired violent tendencies of late? Isn’t that what triggered the urgency behind the crisis at hand? Do you think this unarmed excursion into the wilds of these alien environs wise?”
 
“Come now, Doctor. Surely you’re aware of the proper scientific protocols involved in alien contact. We must observe them in their native habitats. As for weapons, there is only one protection against the Lamperosa. I suggest you avail yourself of it.” He handed her a vial containing a clear viscous fluid. She and Meadows were both given a syringe.
 
“What’s in it?” she sniped.
 
“A special cocktail prepared just for the occasion,” said the Captain. “A pinch of sedatives, a dash of barbiturates and a smidgen of hallucinogens.” 
 
Braxton’s eyes flashed. “Ahyes, mention was made of this in your reports.” She seemed to be in deep thought. “Are you sure it’s needed in my case? My psychic abilities give me a certain natural resistance to the effects of the unknown…”
 
William looked up sharply and shook his head. “‘Unknown’ doesn’t begin to cover it. Really, Dr Braxton, I strongly recommend you take it. You too, Dr Meadows. You could… damage yourselves if you go in unprepared.”
 
Ariel nodded her assent, a gesture that caused Braxton no minor irritation.
 
“But none of you are medicated. How is it we require what you clearly don’t?” Her tone was mildly accusatory.
 
“We’ve built up what amounts to a tolerance for the Lamperosa,” replied the Captain. “I gradually weaned myself off the drugs over a period of about five years. There is little doubt I have that medication to thank for retaining my sanity. Ten ccs should suffice, five for each of you.”
 
Reluctantly, Drs Braxton and Meadows injected one another with the intravenous cocktail.
 
A short distance ahead, they stepped out into a large clearing.
 
 
VI
 
Braxton was about to register a complaint concerning the potency of the sedative she’d been administered when her consciousness was pulled tight like a rubber band and abruptly snapped back into place. She saw the vague, oddly shimmering forms of the Lamperosa in the trees, standing in the mossy clearing, alternately beckoning and repelling her in sickening waves of blurred vision, disorientation and confusion. It was as if she was being plucked like the strings of an instrument. Psychic vibrations raced manically up and down her brain stem and shot through her spine like a swarm of wild bees. She felt herself inexplicably transported to a multitude of wheres and whens. There was no logical train of thought to link them, no thread of reason to explain the onslaught of images to which her mind was subjected. She reeled from the shock of reorientation as each successive wave swept over her, overwhelming her senses, her reason… No! Not her consciousness—
 
She glanced at Meadows’ inert form on the ground beside her, already twitching and unconscious.
 
“Captain W-iinter,” she gurgled between tightly clenched teeth, “Oh, pleeze helppp—”
 
Braxton awoke in the dispensary. The Captain was leaning over her, barking orders at the medic who scurried to comply with his commands. He then withdrew to the opposite end of the room with the medical report clasped tightly in his hands. Meadows occupied the cot next to hers, still unconscious.
 
“My dear God… ” Her voice trailed off weakly, as though speaking into an infinite void.
 
The Captain couldn’t help it. For the first time, he actually felt sympathy for the woman. “The effects will subside,” he reassured her. “Just lie still and don’t overexert yourself. You and your companion are invited to join me tonight at the Captain’s mess.”
 
The Captain couldn’t resist a small jest at her expense. “What do you think of the Lamperosa now, Braxton?”
 
She swooned and shuddered uncontrollably in response.
 
 
VII
 
Drs Braxton and Meadows arrived at the Captain’s table promptly at 7pm, as was the local custom. Captain Winter noted with some amusement that Braxton still appeared dishevelled by her previous close encounter with the Lamperosa, but nonetheless (at least from a medical standpoint) seemed none the worse for wear. 
 
Over appetizers of escargot wrapped in the boiled, red leaves of a large flowering plant native to the region of Kolasi occupied by humans, they discussed the day’s events.
 
“I must say,” said Braxton, “This is all so unbelievable. I experienced it all first-hand, but have yet to wrap my mind around it.”
 
“Incredible maybe,” said the Captain “But not unbelievable. You can’t deny what you senses tell you. Not for long, anyway. It’s not healthy.”
 
“I don’t remember a thing,” Meadows said. 
 
“That’s not an abnormal reaction your first time out. The drugs make it possible. Mercifully, in your case.” 
 
Meadows nodded politely. “It’s certainly nothing like the acid trips I took at the university. There’s fear under the amnesia, I can feel it. I have no idea what I’m afraid of.”
 
“Alienness,” the Captain said with a note of finality. “Most people have no idea what the word means. Or rather, what it represents here on Kolasi.”
 
“Yes, I see your point.” Braxton remarked. “There is nothing human about these… creatures—if that is indeed what they are. I concede you had no choice but to move forward with your daring plan of mutual ambassadorship.”
 
“You’re sure it was worth the trouble, then?”
 
“I have no doubt of it whatsoever. These beings are sentient. More than that, they possess enormous psychic capabilities. That I can already tell you, although at this juncture I have absolutely no idea where their psychic powers end and their technological abilities begin. I’m convinced they have a technology of their own. In both instances, they may well be significantly more advanced than we are. I cannot say with any precision—yet. I—”
 
“Kate!” shouted Meadows, “You’re not thinking of going back out there, are you?”
 
“Why yes, I’m afraid so, Harlan.” She snipped, “I see no other alternative if we are to—”
 
“I won’t go!” Meadows gulped his wine in protest.
 
Braxton breathed a deep sigh and shook her head wearily. 
 
“Harlan,” she chided him, “Why must you always be so exasperating?
 
“I fear,” she continued in haggard tones, “I haven’t been myself since our arrival here. Certainly, I haven’t set my best foot forward. And Ariel, that poor woman. I insulted her shamelessly. Oh, I must apologize to her!”
 
The Captain paused for a moment and stretched out his arms, visibly relaxing his hands as he did so. The gesture had the desired calming effect on his guests.
 
“Listen,” he said. “Why don’t we just start over? My name is Captain Nathan Winter. You may call me Captain Winter, Captain or simply Nathan when I’m not in the immediate company of my men. Do you mind if I call you Kate and Harlan?...”
 
Harlan’s face visibly brightened. 
 
“I sincerely wish you would, Captain,” said Kate without pretence (while still preserving a hint of formality).
 
The Captain laughed. It was a hearty evacuation that satisfied and lulled all three of them into a state of contentment. They continued their conversation over an entrée of prime rib and something that resembled fuzzy elongated berries in a delicate cream sauce.
 
“So, Kate,” the Captain said, “Why the sour mood earlier today… if you don’t mind my asking?”
 
“Nothing more than human nature, really, Captain. We are all driven by a certain degree of—pettiness. Jealousy, envy, conceit—it’s the human condition, I’m afraid. I’m ashamed to admit it, but well… my husband just left me for a former lab assistant. Ariel is such an attractive and vivacious young woman, the sort of person I always wanted to be but never dared to try it. Then when you mentioned she was your son’s ex-wife, well… I went to pieces. It was a childish tantrum. Inexcusable, really.”
 
“Come now, we all make mistakes,” the Captain comforted. “There is very little that can’t be reconciled, when approached with a humble heart and a positive attitude. I’m sure you’ll patch things up with her. I suspect you might even become friends someday.”
 
For the first time in the Captain’s brief acquaintance with Kate, she smiled openly. It was a crooked smile but a good start, the Captain thought.
 
“Oh, do you really think so, Captain? I would so much enjoy her company.”
 
The Captain dismissed the subject with an expertly executed wave of his hand and said “Perhaps so. It’s interesting, though…”
 
“What’s that?” Harlan inquired.
 
“Well, it doesn’t always happen… but encounters with the Lamperosa often precede epiphanies of a very personal nature. I myself have had several, and count myself worn smooth by it but better off on account of it just the same. Perhaps your recent experiences will yield similar results. At any rate, Kate, it might not hurt you to take a few steps outside your comfort zone. Whatever are you waiting for, anyway?” Kate impulsively placed her hand on his arm, and then hastily withdrew it.
 
“Yes, that’s the sort of thing I mean,” said the Captain. “What happened, did you think I’d bite?” He stared at her in mock apprehension, then winked playfully.
 
Kate’s face turned beet red. ‘Oh my, this man may be old,’ she thought ‘but he’s dangerous.’
 
Harlan, taking in the scene unfolding before him with great pleasure, smiled broadly. “Captain, you’ve appealed to the hippie in me. I had a revelation or two of my own today. Perhaps I’ll share them with you on some future occasion. In the meantime, I’d prefer to be greedy and keep them private.”
 
And all too quickly, dessert (a pink gelatine that melted in the mouth like cotton candy) was over.
 
Kate retired to her quarters, but Harlan wasn’t sleepy. He thought to say his rosaries, and had learned from the Captain that there was a chapel located adjacent to the canteen he had spotted earlier that day. Perhaps a confession was also in order. Or was it?...
 
The chapel never closed. The cantina served liquor and stayed open until midnight. 
 
Harlan stood in front of the two establishments quietly deliberating, then strode resolutely into the cantina. The confession could wait… 
 
 
VIII
 
…And there, to his bewilderment and considerable delight, sat Ariel. She was perched on a barstool next to a table tucked into an inconspicuous corner of the poorly lit bar. The girl had interested him greatly. He was far too old for her, but there was a certain warm familiarity about her he had noticed at once. It wasn’t exactly a sense of déjà vu; more like the sparks that fly when kindred spirits meet. In point of fact, he had been hoping to talk to her alone all day. He felt a little awkward approaching her, even though his interest was purely platonic. He didn’t want to be thought a letch.
 
Her disarming smile immediately dispelled his baseless concerns. It was silly. Hadn’t he learned to go with his instincts by now? Actually, he hadn’t. That was one of the epiphanies he’d had in his earlier encounter with the Lamperosa. Yes indeed, he had a much clearer picture of himself, his limitations, and his lot in life than he’d had before the incident. It was, he was beginning to understand, a major turning point and defining event in his life.
 
‘Well,’ he thought whimsically, ‘If one bout of unconsciousness could have such a beneficial effect on my disposition, perhaps another alcohol-induced one might be of even more constructive use.’
 
That was the theory and he was sticking to it. 
 
He sat down at the table at her kind behest, ordered a round of particularly noxious elixirs and fell to talking non-stop and without inhibition until midnight.
 
The two spilled out of the bar arm in arm singing a ridiculous drinking song.
 
Then Ariel turned to face him and asked the question she’d been meaning to all night. 
 
“Harlan,” she said. “Earlier today, before you met the Lamperosa…”
 
“Yes?”
 
“…Why was your sister mad at me?” 
 
The words hung suspended in the air like the huge, motionless letters on a billboard. Inebriated, Harlan started and staggered backward a step. He hadn’t mentioned his relationship with Kate. In fact, on expeditions such as these he actively tried to conceal it.
 
“But—how did you know?”
 
Ariel read his expression of astonishment and laughed. It wasn’t like anything he’d heard before. Like the ringing of small brass bells accompanied by the bright clinking sound of crystal glasses and the fine tinkling of porcelain ornaments. If there were angelic choirs, Harlan mused, they must certainly sound like this.
 
“Silly man,” she said, “such matters of the heart are quite obvious, don’t you think?”
 
It was Harlan’s turn to laugh. In so doing, he became acutely aware of how coarse and lifeless the sounds issuing from his throat seemed to him in comparison to—
 
‘—Oh, hell,’ he thought. ‘What’s my sister going to say when I tell her I’ve fallen hopelessly in love with this entrancing creature? She’s half my age.’
 
Then aloud: “It’s a long story. She regrets it and has vowed to set things right with you in the morning.”
 
“Now it’s my turn,” he said. “The Chief Medical Officer who was given the crystal. Who was he to you?”
 
A shade of melancholy eclipsed her cherubic face. “My father, Owen Wald.”
 
“I’m sorry,” he said, chastising himself bitterly for spoiling the mood. Hoping to comfort her, he cupped her tiny cheeks in his hands.
 
‘What could a woman like her see in a man like me?’ he thought. ‘Wait, if she’s that empathetic, maybe she’ll spare me the embarrassment of an unrequited—’  
 
Years later, they were to claim they didn’t know who had kissed whom that fateful evening. Perhaps by then they had forgotten. 
 
The truth is, it was she who had first kissed him. Even after the life-changing spells of the Lamperosa had worked their unfathomable magic, he hadn’t had the nerve.
 
 
IX
 
The Lamperosa paid a visit to the compound that night. Inside the base ship, the familiar screeching sounds like sliding claws could be heard as they skittered across the outer surface of the hull. The results were astonishingly non-destructive to facilities, plant machinery and personnel. Such incursions on the camp by the Lamperosa weren’t rare and never caused any damage or injury. The clamour they made was almost deafening, yet there was never a mark on the smooth hull of the ship or the domed tops of the supply auxiliaries. The Lamperosa moved with amazing speed and stealth, except when they desired to make their presence conspicuous to onlookers. Then they put on an acrobatic show that startled their human audience but caused them no harm. This trip distinguished itself from all the others in only one way: a supply auxiliary housing spare parts for many of the camp’s crucial transportation and communication systems had been compromised. Some of the parts were missing… 
 
 
X
 
They all took breakfast the next morning in the Captain’s spacious quarters. The first topic of business was the previous night’s raid. 
 
The Captain cracked open a boiled egg and peeled off the shell in slow, deliberate motions.
 
Harlan’s head was swimming. His disorientation and giddiness had little to do, however, with the Lamperosa. If only he could blame them. 
 
He caught only the trailing end of the Captain’s remarks: “… and as usual there were no injuries or casualties. Just the kind of mischievous chicanery one might expect from a gang of boisterous teenagers.”
 
Harlan and Ariel shared a secret smile over the simile.
 
“I wonder,” Kate mused, “Could the Lamperosa pose a security threat to the crew?”
 
“I don’t think so,” the Captain replied. “Even their latest outbreaks of, er… rambunctiousness aren’t directed at the crew.”
 
“I don’t even think they’re malicious,” replied William. “In all my years acclimating to the Lamperosa, I haven’t observed or sensed any ill will.”
 
“Would you recognize it if you did?” posed Kate.
 
William chortled. “No, maybe not. Ultimately, I have little to show for all those years of time and effort I’ve spent among them. I suppose perhaps the experiment’s been a failure after all.”
 
“Nonsense,” Ariel cried, “We know considerably more about the Lamperosa now than we did twenty five years ago.”
 
“What precisely do we know about the Lamperosa?” puzzled Kate.
 
In her mind, she got her answer: What do you know about ME, Kate? Come onnn… be specific now.
 
Kate started. You’re a telepath?
 
Too late, she realized the utter stupidity of her question.
 
She stared at William with a sense of newfound respect.
 
It’s not nice to hide from me like that. Have you always had this power?
 
My apologies. But until recently, you seemed like the ideal sort of person to hide it from. To answer your question, I don’t believe I was born this way.
 
The Lamperosa?
 
Most likely a side effect.
 
Some side effect! Your psychic signature is quite impressive. I wonder if you’re holding back on me, like I’m sure the Lamperosa were… 
 
Your suspicious nature always gets the better of you, doesn’t it, Kate? ‘No’ on the first count, ‘yes’ on the second.
 
It’s availed me on several occasions.
 
And sabotaged you on many others.
 
This is fascinating. But let’s return to the discussion. We’ll continue this private exchange later.
 
Of course.
 
“What we know about the Lamperosa,” said William, “is still more abstract than concrete. We know they are alive, in the sense that they obtain nourishment from their environment and are capable of procreation. They are sentient and possess all of the psionic powers across their full range of classification: telekinesis, teleportation and telepathy. Their psychic powers seem to increase in proportion to how many Lamperosa are present, which is not an unusual trait for a telepathic race. They manipulate their environment at will, partly by using their psychic energy and in part by utilizing their own brand of technology which, in some fashion, appears to be innately inborn in the species. I suspect their ability to cause scenes and impressions from different places or times to appear in rapid succession is a product of that technology—”
 
Oh, how dreadful!
 
You get used to it. —And don’t interrupt.
 
“In addition, we know that Lamperosa life begins at the embryonic stage. In its early stages, the embryo appears to be an asymmetrical piece of inanimate crystal. However, it increases in size and weight over a period of time until—well, you should all see for yourselves. We must return to the forest.”
 
“I have some pressing duties to attend to,” the Captain said. “Let’s reconvene for the excursion right after lunch, if that’s acceptable to you?”
 
“I have just one question, if you don’t mind,” said Kate. 
 
Everyone else nodded assent.
 
“Yes,” William replied, “but make it brief. I, too, have my duties.”
 
“What do you believe is behind the Lamperosa attacks on the compound?”
 
William coughed. “Again, I don’t think they’re hostile. They have never intentionally harmed a human.”
 
“Be that as it may, something must be motivating their aberrant behaviour… ”
 
“I’ve learned not to use absolutes like ‘must’ when referring to the Lamperosa. The best answer I can presently give you is this: I think they’re looking for something.”
 
“Aren’t we all?” said Ariel, smiling.
 
“Have you any idea what it might be?” Kate persisted.
 
“I’m at a loss,” William said.
 
“That will have to do—for now. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.”
 
And thanks for the respect.
 
It’s one of the many transformations I’ve undergone since I arrived here.
 
Yes, the Lamperosa have their ways. All mysterious, it seems. Take my advice… 
 
What’s that?
 
Don’t fight it.
 
 
XI
 
They stood once again at the edge of the compound. It was drizzling. The light rain was similar to its counterpart on earth, but trace contaminants in Kolasi’s upper atmosphere gave the raindrops a slight blue tinge. The overall effect—as the droplets fell, deposited themselves on the dense foliage and ran down to form tiny pools in a textured carpet of yellow, orange and green moss—was pleasing to the senses.
 
Harlan, suddenly quite the romantic, wondered how this alien pastoral scene would look to the Lamperosa. This assumed, of course, that they possessed optical sense organs. He soon realized he had no immediate way of knowing and his fancies returned to thoughts of love.
 
“Captain,” said Harlan, “what about the sedatives?”
 
William answered for him: “I don’t believe that’ll be necessary this time.”
 
“Pity,” Harlan said. “I was rather in the mood for them.”
 
This time William took the lead. The party began its journey as it had the day before, but veered sharply to the left at a point about sixty metres into the thick vegetation and soon encountered a deeply, but narrowly, worn path through the woods. They turned onto it.
 
“I’ve walked this path almost every day of my life,” said William. 
 
“Where does it go?” asked Harlan.
 
“To the Meeting Place… ”
 
CONTINUES NEXT MONTH


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