Day 48. 159 pages, 73,908 words.
Myrael’s compact little craft descended almost invisibly through the soupy atmosphere. There was actually quite a lot of junk in the upper envelope, so as long as she was dropping in unpowered free-fall, and headed towards open water, there wasn’t much risk of her being noticed, much less intercepted.
Even so, aki’Drednanth had long since mastered the art of avoiding detection, at least at this range and on a scale of single-ship-to-entire-world. Even now, she could detect emotional spikes from the surface and could judge, in a very vague sense, how much attention her ship was getting. It was actually disheartening how little anybody seemed to care. She needed to blanket her approach with a slight normalising effect, especially as her shields blazed briefly, but it wasn’t really necessary. Considering the fact that an alien fleet was up there, more people should be interested in falling debris.
It was amazing. Just as they’d said it was. There was no Drednanth misinterpretation here, no blurring through the cultural lens or from long millennia of absence. It was really here. It was difficult to appreciate from space, and now – the dusty, settlement-smeared landscape growing closer every second – it became difficult to appreciate all over again. You couldn’t see it, when you were that close. It became just another planet, just another … what did the Molren call them? Dumbler-folk. Just another dumbler-folk world, its inhabitants carrying on about their business with no idea of the dangers swimming in the darkness all around them.
Almost two hundred years in her current lifetime, flying with the Fleet. Two hundred interesting, fulfilling, but ultimately uneventful years. Worth it, for this place.
She dropped to a few hundred feet above the scummy, sluggishly-moving surface of the sea, then cruised slowly inland on the trajectory Mer had mapped out for her. It would avoid major population centres and allow her to get quite close to the landing site before she needed to conceal herself more seriously.
The temperature, according to her readings, was uncomfortably high in this region. She wouldn’t be stepping out of her suit any time soon, unless there was a cooled environment of some sort available in the warehouse. Perhaps below-ground … she found it difficult to believe that the Ogres, Big Thundering Bjørn and Fat Tuesday, would have managed to live here all this time with only their own refrigeration suits to provide comfort.
There were still very few interested eyes as she passed the outskirts of Vanjing and closed on the warehouse. Her vessel resembled some of the air vehicles humans used – she’d seen plenty of them in the past decades of transmissions, and had put considerable effort into customising her ship to look like one at least superficially – and she caught only two minor surges of emotion as she flew in. Whether it was alarm, or suspicion, or surprise, or sexual arousal she had no real idea, but it was enough to show her that somebody was noticing her ship. It could have been arousal. One thing had become abundantly clear in the course of the approach, and that was that humans would mate if somebody put a tray of food in front of them backwards.
She settled on each surge as gently as she could given her complete lack of experience with human minds, dulling the emotion to a vague sense of something-unusual, and enhancing the normality of the sight of the vehicle as it passed overhead.
Myrael had won the honour – not only of joining the Earth contact convoy, but of entering this particular iteration of flesh-existence as aki’Drednanth with the Molran Fleet in the first place – partially for her known proclivity and skill in adapting to the minds of aliens. It was an important ability to bring to the table, especially when meeting with dumbler-folk. Another thing she had been waiting for, really, for the past two centuries. There had been some minor contacts as they crawled along the outskirts of the galaxy behind them, but nothing like this.
Suppressing a little swell of anticipation of her own, Myrael completed the landing procedure next to Massington Karturi’s tiny shuttle and disembarked. It was almost as though she could feel the heat – hammering down from the yellowish sky above, and baking up from the ground – through the plates of her suit. The unit at the back of her head hummed a little more loudly, compensating.
She stumped forward into the shadowy enormity of the warehouse, where Massington, three humans and the pair of Ogres met her just inside the doorway. She reached out hesitantly while Massington stammered introductions and the humans jabbered enthusiastically, extending herself towards Bjørn and Tuesday. Her Dreamscape, a formless and frosty plane vaguely reminiscent of the Great Ice and also of the previous world on which she had taken aki’Drednanth flesh, searched for the Ogres.
She found nothing.
There was a small potential among the humans, just as there was among Molranoids, but Myrael had been sure – despite what Mer had relayed to her about the Ogres – that most of the strange resonance she had detected from space had been Bjørn and Tuesday. As it happened, none of it was. These particular humans, moreover, and probably a lot of others, had electronic augmentations and dependencies that greatly stunted their evolved telepathic ability. There would be no deeper connection to the Ogres – not today, and probably not in this lifetime.
Bjørn, meanwhile, had clanked up to Myrael and was studying her with a tilted head and thoughtful snuffling. The Ogre’s helmet was open, and Myrael considered doing the same if only for a few moments. Her resistance to the heat was nowhere near as good as Bjørn’s, however.
Eventually, Big Thundering Bjørn gave a deep woof of laughter.
“You,” the Ogre said, surprising her. She had, again, been told that the Ogres talked – but she still hadn’t really expected it. “You looks like a truck.”
Tuesday woofed as well. “Yeah.”
“Bruum bruum,” Bjørn continued mysteriously, and with evident glee, “you are truck,” the massive Ogre tapped at her ventilation grilles, signal lights, and then laid a heavily-armoured gauntlet on Myrael’s shoulder with a clang. “I calls you Truck.”
“Very well,” she replied, articulating the simple Gund phrases with a motion of her hands, pleased she had taken the time to learn the language. “On Earth, then, I am Truck.”