“Wonderful,” said Clay 46 hours later when he finally got a good look at the thing in three dimensions, he and Gamma Wing and Kalkar and his crew. “Hi, we’re H. sapiens. We meet you, we kill you. Have a nice day!”
“Clay,” said Rachel.
“It’s the thing in the ravine,” said Natasha. “Same species. I’m certain of it.”
It was about three meters long, laid out, but apparently it stood up most of the time, because it had five stick-like legs, a meter each, sticking out from the bottom of its blobby body, a big dumpling with crooked toothpicks stuck in one side. The other side bore six little stalks, ten or fifteen centimeters long, each with some sort of sensory organ. It might have lost one or two stalks, or a few of the stick legs. There were also three manipulating arms, or perhaps there were three left. These were skinny, even skinnier than the legs, and ended in four-fingered pincers.
The whole thing was a basic orange color, so its midsection, which must have comprised 90% of its mass, looked like a large and battered pumpkin. It wore a suit—a vac suit, forsooth, almost like theirs in its basic design—but the suit had been cut back by the exobiologists, who had opened up the body cavity of this nearly intact specimen. Natasha had been in on the first examination.
“So they do take in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide,” she said. “A lot of our basic processes are just like theirs. Their blood is blue, like a crab’s. It circulates like an arthropod too, throughout the body, no blood vessels, but since the alien is so large compared to an insect or a spider, its circulatory system has to be more organized. The brain was in the middle of the body, and it’s not like our brains at all. Nor is their genetic material like DNA. It’s more like, oh, those beaded wrist bands kids wear. You have about ten possible beads and you arrange them five to seven across, and you get this ribbon, and we’re about 99% sure that’s the genome right there.”
“How is the brain not like ours?” asked Kalkar.
“Maybe it’s like yours,” said Park.
“Oh,” said Natasha, “this one’s probably more like us, Commander, it’s a fighter pilot. No, see, it’s symmetric and in four parts. It looks like it’s layered, where we have all these different organs it’s got strata. I have no idea what it means, and I expect I’ll be explaining to Captain Ted Trein someday soon about how I don’t know how this helps us know what part of them to shoot at.”
“Honest to God,” said Vera. “That man just really wants to shoot something.”
“Said the mighty huntress of mouthholes,” said Clay.
“What? That was a compliment.”
“You guys have a question back there?” said Natasha.
“Uh, yeah,” said Clay. “What more is going to get done to this poor unfortunate?”
Natasha and three other exobiologists just looked at each other. “We were going to do some more tests,” said one of the exobiologists, an older man named Entwill. “We want to take some slides and examine these, uh, beings on the cellular level or whatever. They do have cells, but—well, it’s most interesting. We’re aware there are ethical issues, but we think the potential for learning about these creatures that are nothing like anything we’ve ever seen before, we think that’s just too much to let slip.”
“Clay, really,” said Natasha.
“No, no,” said Clay, “you misunderstand. I get that you want to know all you can about them. I just mean, after we’re done with the body, do you bury it somewhere? Cremate it? Dump it in outer space?”
“No,” said Rachel. “No, no. No. I’ll tell you what you do.”
“What would that be?” asked Park. “We might end up with three of these bodies. More, if they insist on coming back with reinforcements.”
“What we do,” said Rachel, “is we return them to their kin. In the ravine.”