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Gaseous Entity-Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog hovered authoritatively in front of the spacecraft crew who were assembled before it. Its amorphous body modifications were in stark contrast to the swirling bilateral forms of the four crew members. Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog had several wraith-like attachments with which it habitually towed the concentric rings of its ansible apparatus. At the moment those wraith-like attachments were twitching in odd searching motions, seeking the ansible which had been disconnected and which would be operated by another entity for the duration of this mission. Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog probably felt some discomfort during this disconnect, its photoreceptor eyespots, one blue globular organ and one amber globular organ, which usually functioned as symbolic cosmic traffic lights, winked spasmodically. Very few in the universe had undergone such extensive bodymods as Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog. Its bodymods enabled it to do its job of dispatchment, which included communication throughout the universe to schedule and dispatch spacecrafts, and arranging special services such as covert repairs, maybe even more nefarious undertakings if the rumors were true. Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog sputtered and blustered through its speech, reeking of demands, expectations, and admonishments.
Bah, thought Gaseous Entity—Technomancer Whiff of Sulfur Sssistl contemptuously to itself, Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog should be called Hairy Gray Flog for those long gleams of light attachments that snap and pop around it, crackling like a comet’s tail. What a piece of machinery, they used to call entities like that useful tools. But while everyone else on this covert mission went by a nickname, Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog had no nickname. That gaseous entity was too dead-tricky to be fooled around with like that. Technomancer Whiff of Sulfur’s own nickname was Sssistl (rhymes with crystal), for the sound of sulfur gas emitting from a vent. Technomancer Sssistl did not much like the nickname, especially as it had not once in it’s life uttered the sound “sssistl”. So while others were joking around about it, Technomancer Sssistl hung back with a sour glower, and contemplated on the best ways to give trouble to them and theirs. Technomancer Sssistl detested almost every gaseous entity it had ever known, with the exception of the one small, stunted, but sainted volcano of its own blessed origin, its mother fissure. Technomancer Sssistl knew that it was also deformed, body and soul, and it troubled him somewhat. It comforted him to concentrate on its detestation of all things biological, but Technomancer Sssistl did not want to see biologicals, did not want to hear about them, and wanted nothing to do with them. It just wanted to hate them. With a hundred billion biologically inhabitable planets out of the seven million trillion estimated planets in the universe, there were far too many biologicals. Technomancer Sssistl thought that biologicals were less than worthless, at the least they took up resources better put to gaseous uses, at the worst they were a serious threat. The fewer biologicals in the universe the better. But Technomancer Sssistl did like the hint of a big payday for an easy biological “rescue” mission that Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog was dangling like a lure at the end of a comet’s hairy tail. The problem with Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog was that it was known to sometimes drift off without paying up. And entities who complained about being stiffed tended to disappear, vaporized so to speak. One misdirection from Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog and they disappeared into wherever, forever. Technomancer Sssistl rode itself just above a boiling point of 717.82 K, and it planned to stay that way. So for now Technomancer Sssistl just hung back and kept its emissions to a minimum as it listened to Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog’s spiel. Surreptitiously, Technomancer Sssistl sussed out the three other gaseous entities on this new crew. From the look of them, all were idiots. And, the fact that Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog seemed to expect magical-technological abilities from Technomancer Sssistl, told Technomancer Sssistl that Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog was a bit dim too. Technomancer Sssistl was perfectly aware that it could neither gain magical powers through any sort of technology, nor could it use magical abilities to have any affect on technology. There was no such thing as magic, and anyone who thought that magic existed, was stupid, stupid, stupid. There was plenty of stupidity in the universe, and that was good, good, good for Technomancer Sssistl. Pretending to work magic was much easier than actually working. Technomancer Sssistl was precious only to itself and it would protect itself for all it was worth, which after this mission was going to be a lot. Technomancer Sssistl flickered with a malice camouflaged as passive attention.
Gaseous Entity—Analyst Buh-buh-buh, maintained a polite distance from the blatantly malevolent Technomancer Whiff of Sulfur Sssistl, the stench of that gaseous entity was odious. Analyst Buh-buh-buh could not remember where it had gotten its own nickname. It was obviously some sort of humorous onomatopoeia, and being of an amicable nature, when called upon it would give a couple of big, laughing BUH’s to prove it. Analyst Buh-buh-buh listened to Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog with half a mind, while casually speculating on how Technomancer Sssistl would work out on this mission. Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog was saying that this mission would be not only remunerative to the crew but was essential for the survival of some bits of life on a particular planet, that the biologicals there were in dire need of rescue. Analyst Buh-buh-buh did not care much about that, it knew itself to be a slacker who would do the minimum for the maximum money. It was also easily distracted, and not particularly analytical. It just was very good at looking like an analyst. However, if Analyst Buh-buh-buh did nothing else, and it might not, it intended to make sure that Technomancer Sssistl did not foul up this mission’s payout to the crew. Analyst Buh-buh-buh was used to working with difficult, even bad actors, and felt comfortable about its strategy for making the best of Technomancer Sssistl. Analyst Buh-buh-buh’s main concern was their mission leader, Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog, that murky soul was obviously hiding something, some things, what? Analyst Buh-buh-buh yawned a little bored vapor, then just for a goof, envisioned Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog in a funny new light. Much like Earthlings were reputed to bring others down to size by visualizing them naked, Analyst Buh-buh-buh amused itself with the vision of Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog as an ancient analog computer like the one created by Earth Greeks in the early 1st century BC to predict astronomical positions and eclipses, an Antikythera mechanism, with all those crusty little knobs and nasty accretion layers deposited by biologicals in the sea. Now that’s funny, thought Analyst Buh-buh-buh with a couple of buh, buh, buh’s to itself. Throughout its mental machinations, Analyst Buh-buh-buh maintained a polite sheen of attentiveness toward the object of its amusement, their mission leader Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog.
Gaseous Entity—Bricoleur Plup-plup got its nickname from the deftness with which it plupped stuff into place, plup, plup, all in a neat row, or into a perfect geodesic dome, or whatever form was required, and then energized it with state of the art power. It was the ultimate tool pusher. Bricoleur Plup-plup was anxious to shake off whatever Ansible Dispatcher Gray Gas was going on about, and get to the task at hand. Bricoleur Plup-plup was a premier bricoleur, capable of complex construction using just a few choice tools. That work was all that Bricoleur Plup-plup cared about, other entities be damned, and Bricoleur Plup-plup was certain that many of them were damned. Bricoleur Plup-plup’s modus operandi was to float into the middle of a jumbled mass of materials and mechanicals, unpack its toolset and work relentlessly in every direction, until suddenly, plup, plup, everything was in place and working to perfection. With only a couple of career-threatening exceptions involving environmental mishaps, which were hopefully not known to the present company, Bricoleur Plup-plup was reasonably professional, if somewhat arrogant. It had a few more bodymods than most gaseous entities, for example, clawed, webbed feet for surface traction on land or sea while he worked. Bricoleur Plup-plup had been told that it had the mechanical finesse of a robotic angel. With its specialized tools, Bricoleur Plup-plup created works that some said rivaled those in heaven, wherever that might be. The fact that Bricoleur Plup-plup was perfectly capable of recognizing flatter did not mean it did not enjoy flattery. It did. For now Bricoleur Plup-plup formed a bland sheen, behind which it worked over the particulars of this mission task. It especially like the fact that the environment would require no special protection. Bricoleur Plup-plup had not wanted to come on this mission, but now that it was on-board, it intended to enjoy its work. It would avoid any and all contact with the rest of the team, especially with Analyst Buh-buh-buh who had had the audacity to ask if plup's were painful. What an idiot.
Gaseous Entity—Obviator Buzzz was also finding it hard to sit through Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog’s monologue. Obviator Buzzz was a fixer without anything to fix, a doer without anything to do, and Obviator Buzzz wanted to get up and go. This hanging around and talking it through is useless, Obviator Buzzz ruminated, and too bad I did not fix my little drug problem before coming onto this mission. No worries, Obviator Buzzz reassured itself, no one will know. I am so good at my job that I can do it buzzed. As the crew’s obviator, Obviator Buzzz was supposed to anticipate and eliminate any dangers, difficulties, and disadvantages by the most effective measures necessary. Just as the spacecraft’s gravity obviators nullified gravity when it lifted off, Obviator Buzzz’s task was to fix any problem that threatened to hold the mission back. But for now, Obviator Buzzz was buzzing bored, and looking around for something specific to be annoyed about. It found it in Bricoleur Plup-plup’s mere demeanor, sitting there with that understated sheen that seemed so pretentious.
*** *** ***
Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog had begun the crew’s briefing with some rough fumes, “Make no mistake, I am fully aware that each and every one of you are highly disreputable and for most purposes you are completely undesirable gaseous entities. For example—” and Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog looked directly at Bricoleur Plup-plup, “—just because I won’t go into someone’s prior work shenanigans, doesn’t means that you will have a pass on this mission. You are being held fully accountable for what you do as of right now, right here. You should be highly relieved that it was not the actual authorities who have assembled you here, against your will or not.” And, Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog released a slight, dark, smelly fog to remind Bricoleur Plup-plup of who was in control. Bricoleur Plup-plup had resisted recruitment, but had been overcome by assailants who had liquefied it and transported it to the mission spacecraft in a two-layered dewar flask, with a sealed vacuum space between the inner and outer shells. The decanting had been especially brutal, but as a “wanted” gaseous entity Bricoleur Plup-plup was in no position to complain. It had been shanghaied.
The newly formed crew erupted with surly questions, inane quips, buzzings, and grumblings in an unpleasant cacophony of counter-demands. If Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog had had eyes it would have rolled them, if it had had a mouth it would have sneered, if it had fingers it would have crossed them behind its back. Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog knew very well that there were serious problems with this mission, problems it intended to keep well hidden from anyone and everyone, forever. Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog leaked neither tell-tale scent nor sound. It paused in ominous silence to discourage further questions, then without a single answer, moved along in its presentation. The (unofficial) Powers-The-Be who appointed Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog to lead this mission had chosen cannily. Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog was puffed up for the mission but would be as discrete as its moniker, a fog. The dirty facts that they would be stripping the target planet of more than the current limit for delicacy, specialty foods, that they would take prime specimens for an illegal microscopic-pet trade, and that they would completely degrade the environment throughout the entire planet, would go to the grave, so to speak.
Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog shifted its attention to Technomancer Sssistl, and before the entire crew it proclaimed, “You pretend to use technology for magical effect. You, of course, are a complete and total fraud. You are a charlatan. There is no such thing as magic. Time wasted on magic, is time robbed from science, and as such is dysfunctional. However, some (unofficial) Powers-That-Be have brought you onto the crew, perhaps to function in a spiritual capacity, I don’t know. I myself can see no reason for you to be here.” Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog took satisfaction in the chagrinned manner with which Technomancer Sssistl absorbed this public humiliation. The other gaseous entities shifted in amusement at Technomancer Sssistl’s embarrassment, and missed the clue of “unofficial”, or perhaps they did not care.
“As for our Obviator Buzzz, there will be no drug use for the duration of this project.” stated Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog dryly. “You will be monitored, understood?” Obviator Buzzz contracted its volume, but made no other response.
Analyst Buh-buh-buh glanced at Obviator Buzzz with amusement, thinking, I can attest to that, you will be monitored until you condense, buh, buh, buh!
Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog caught the glance, and snapped. “Analyst Buh-buh-buh, please pay attention. The focus of this mission is on our biological ‘rescue’ effort. Do not get distracted.”
Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog checked Bricoleur Plup-plup’s attitude, and saw nothing to correct in that bland exterior. It was easy to overlook Bricoleur Plup-plup.
Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog continued. “I have been tasked with leading you on this mission, and the four of you have been assigned as my crew by, well, by those Powers-That-Be. We will complete this covert mission, and then forget it. Understood? No one is to know what we have done on this planet. We won’t even know what we have done. Understood?” Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog reviewed the four dull entities who stared bleakly back, knowing there was a lot going on below the surface of those gassy faces. Not a scent out of them, they were a unified crew only in that they were hanging back together from everything that Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog was saying.
“Abiogenesis or biopoiesis or OoL (Origins of Life), is believed to be the natural process of biological life arising from non-living matter, such as simple organic compounds which then compound to form simple organisms.” Continued Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog. “I can now tell you that our target is Planet Animate. It has undergone spontaneous combustion, ah no, I mean, it has undergone spontaneous vivification of some surprisingly beneficial microbes. The problem is that, through no fault of the microbes, the planet’s biomass has degraded to the point of failure, with no hope of restoration. Most microbes on the planet may have perished, and those remaining may soon become extinct. Our mission will be to save the last remnants of those microbes, and transport them safety to a new host planet, where we will broadcast said microbes far and wide, seeding that planet with new microbes which will be of benefit to all of its flora and fauna. How do we know this? Extensive studies. Do you want detailed details? I did not think so.” The crew of gaseous entities released a group fragrant of relief. They did not want to listen to Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog for a second longer than absolutely necessary. Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog was pleased to see this sign of the group cohesion. “Money is in it for us, crew, we’ll be wafting in lucre.” That put a unified glow on everyone.
*** *** ***
No one would have been impressed when their spacecraft landed, it was a generic model, nothing special, a moron could pilot it. Exiting the spacecraft on Planet Animate, the crew clustered like a bouquet of balloons, while Bricoleur Plup-plup gathered up its toolset and silently bobbed off across the landscape. No one noticed it go.
Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog said, “Well, at least it isn’t Earth. Here, Analyst Buh-buh-buh, take this micro-level scanner, let’s see if we’ve got what we think we’ve got.”
Analyst Buh-buh-buh burbled with faux joy, “Buh, buh, buh. Thank goodness, Earthlings are sooo cute.” Then it got serious. “Really, I’m not being sarcastic, I like the little earth grubbers, they have spunk! You know, confidence, bravery, audacity, nerve, spine, backbone. Puns intended! I like those qualities in a biological.” It buh, buh, buh’ed with laughter, then turned its attention to analyzing the planetary life micro-parameters.
When Analyst Buh-buh-buh jokingly suggested that Technomancer Sssistl go into a sit-stay smog, it was amazed to see the surly technomancer comply. If Analyst Buh-buh-buh had watched longer, it would have been further amazed to see Technomancer Sssistl relax completely into sleep, because catching Zs on the job is the easiest way to make money.
Obviator Buzzz was more than ready to get to work. It actually had a bad case of the jitters, having delayed any drug intake onboard where Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog was more likely to notice. When Analyst Buh-buh-buh announced that the planet was teeming with the biologicals that they sought, Obviator Buzzz was delighted that there were so few problems to be resolved. Nothing better than to tie-one-on with the drug-of-the-day then free-style though a couple of problems that no one cared about, and manage them with a hammer so to speak. Today there would be no need to identify issues, define the problem, understand everyone’s interests, list solutions, evaluate options, get consensus, choose a method, and so on. Obviator Buzzz privately felt that most of the stratagems used in the scope of its profession were claptrap; a better way was to snort something to take the edge off, and have at it. The planet was swarming with the microscopic biologicals that they wanted, and collecting them would be like fishing in an Earth barrel. Obviator Buzzz took a toot of its favorite drug, glimmered in a fugue, and started hauling in the germs. Working at a crazy speed, Obviator Buzzz did not notice that many of the biologicals were being crushed, mangled, and entering the collection packets in less than optimal condition.
Analyst Buh-buh-buh swelled up with objection to Obviator Buzzz’s early jump into the game. It had intended to wave the metaphorical start flag on this mission, and was angry at not being able to say, “Buh, buh, buh! Ready, set, go.” It had had a couple of jokes all ready set to go when the time was right to start.
Suddenly Bricoleur Plup-plup stormed up and blew over the makeshift collection operation. “Stop, wait! I have everything set up, plup, plup, for an at-one-go, planet-wide collection of the biologicals. Do not, I repeat, do not suck up one more mangled microbe.” With disgust Bricoleur Plup-plup dumped out the ruined specimens that had already been collected. They formed pathetic, miniscule, greasy smudges that soaked lifelessly into the ground. Bricoleur Plup-plup considered going plasma on Obviator Buzzz, but instead refocused on the mission task. It activated its at-one-go collection process, which went off slick as a whistle. Pfft, and not a bacterium, not a virus, nor even a prion was left on the entire planet. There were plenty of illegal microbes in their collection, and they took well over the limit of the others. But who was counting? No one.
They had taken everything that was to be had on this planet. Every scrap of biological life was now processed as food, the best of which would be sold for top value as limited edition, irreplaceable, exotic delicacies from a planet so far, far away that it was gone. So what if the planetary environment was so degraded that nothing would manifest there for a very long time, maybe forever. They even had their prime specimens for the microscopic pet trade, and they were gleefully aware that those who cultivated the very tiny would pay hugely for the little bits of life that they had misappropriated from the planet today.
Dead-tricky to the end, Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog knew that the time had come for the task for which the (unofficial) Powers-That-Be had made it mission leader. “Look that way.” Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog ordered its riffraff crew, and all four gaseous entities looked in that far off direction. They were used to taking direction from Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog; after all it was not only their mission leader, it was the dispatcher for the universe, directing and monitoring movement to and from various locations, responsible for passage here and there. And, they were blissfully in the moment of a successful mission completion, expecting celebration and payouts. What they got was the metaphorical boot of death. True to form, or actually with a formlessly depraved exertion, Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog caused its preset tripwire to disperse all four gaseous entities high above the planet and far into outer space. There would be no witnesses to what had happened on Planet Animate.
As the four gaseous entities dissipated into the cold, cold void, there was a faint buh, buh, buh, a little plup, plup and a sad, brief buzzz. Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog refused to look, and pretended not to hear. “The (unofficial) Powers-That-Be will pay me well or beware.” Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog whispered to itself. It’s wraith-like attachments writhed with guilt as it ignited a conflagration that would reduce the planet and all traces of their so-called rescue mission to cinders.
If anyone who cared had been listening as the crew drifted apart in the cold, cold void, they would have heard Technomancer Sssistl cry, “Oh woe, if you die in outer space, does your soul know where to go?”
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This work is copyright protected. It is a work of fiction. Incidents, places, and names (especially those of alien entities) are products of the author/artist’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to actual events or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Caption: Gaseous Entity-Technomancer Whiff of Sulfur Sssistl
by Annmarie Throckmorton 2015
Caption: Gaseous Entity-Analyst Buh-buh-buh
by Annmarie Throckmorton 2015
Caption: Gaseous Entity-Bricoleur Plup-plup
by Annmarie Throckmorton 2015
Caption: Gaseous Entity-Obviator Buzzz
by Annmarie Throckmorton 2015
Caption: Gaseous Entity-Ansible Dispatcher Gray Fog-with Ansible
by Annmarie Throckmorton 2015