The Organics

©Eric Ferguson 1997
5732 Bossen Terrace #2
Minneapolis, MN 55417
voice/fax: (612)726-6364

My apologies for not posting the whole story as you may have been expecting, but it was posted for a while. However, I'm seeking print publication, and the editor of Analog informed me that posting on a personal web site is still considered prior publication, which is a no-no. I'm leaving a sample in place and if anyone wants the rest you can contact me, but I can't post it until the submission process is over. For plays, editorials, history and such works, go back to home.

Chapter 1

Dr. Kierz knew the news wasn't going to keep forever, and it was probably better that it didn't. Still, the reaction of frightened, uncomprehending people was something preferably avoided.

The discovery of a new lifeform...well, that's infrequent, but that's science. A lifeform from another world? Not exactly incomprehensible. We travel to other planets, why shouldn't there be others doing the same thing? But a lifeform this...unexpected. That's another matter entirely. Too many presumptions about mechanics and organics just got disproven. Too many assumptions, philosophies, and world-views are about to be blown apart, and people rarely react favorably to that.

The staff could be trusted. Necessity required that they be trusted. They were intelligent, trained, and honest. As long as they kept their nightmarish fantasies in check, they would have the scientific discovery of a lifetime dropped right into their hands, almost literally. Though they might wish they had been under the spacecraft when things get tough enough.

The ship felt much more familiar than its unfortunate occupant. It was made of much more comprehensible material, and aside from its obviously alien design, it would have fit in with Dr. Kierz's own technology. A bit more advanced perhaps, in its ability to cross greater amounts of interstellar space, but apparently not capable of thinking for itself. This led to one terrible conclusion: the organic occupant must have been in control. That means the organic occupant must be intelligent.

Organic lifeforms were hardly unknown. Indeed, they were found on Kierz's world and had been discovered on other planets with no mechanical lifeforms. They were puny things, eking out an existence in the cracks and crevices of the machines. Their study had never been a particularly glamorous area of science, and it seemed the sum total of knowledge of their workings took little space. Now all that knowledge would be needed-- and rewritten.

The organic appeared to be damaged by the crash, but the mere fact of its functioning at all was remarkable. Kierz knew it still functioned because it breathed, an activity common to the mobile organics, while the rooted organics displayed little motion at all. The organic's brain must still be functioning, but only minimally. He couldn't tell if the organic's motor controls were functional or if the higher thinking abilities were intact. He lacked the ability to repair any damage, but he also knew from the little he’d read on the subject that organics had a self-repair capability. Was it even possible to kill this thing?

As for actual intelligence, there had been no sign of it from the organic's behavior, of which there was none so far. Intelligence had to be discerned from the size of the brain, which Kierz knew was a mobile organic's control center, and the fact the ship was built to accommodate its passenger and appeared to rely on it for decision making.

The organic’s skin was what he had expected in that it was a dull color as was the fibrous substance extruding from it. He hadn’t expected the colorful cloth covering, which was similar to shades of his own body. What was particularly unexpected, even frightening, was that the organic had a shape similar to his own: a head placed above the torso, binocular vision, though with eyes unlike anything he’d ever seen, a pair of legs under the torso and two more limbs attached at the sides. Could it be pure coincidence?

"Dr. Kierz..." said Lurag, speaking over his personal radio from the other side of the lab. Lurag's wheels squeaked as he turned inplace. He was looking out the window, and needed to say nothing else. Lurag had his eyes at full extension as he strained to see the entire scene below. Kierz could well guess what he was looking at. Reporters, curiosity seekers, cultists, and who knows who else would be bound to show up as rumors spread that a spacecraft was found with an alien occupant. Very alien. Kierz pulled himself away from where his organic lay on the table, hopefully in the self-repair mode more familiar organics had, and looked outside. Members of what could not quite be described as a crowd were peppering the guards with questions. Nothing to worry about yet.

"They're just asking questions, that's all. And the guards don't know anything anyway." said Kierz. "That's not the only worry," replied Lurag. "Shouldn't we keep a restraint on that thing?" he asked, looking at the prone organic. "It's immobile", Kierz tried to reassure him. He turned and walked back over to the subject of his study.

Lurag turned quickly and followed him. "For how long? What if it suddenly reactivates and tears pieces off us? You have no idea what it can do." "It's intelligent," Kierz insisted. "Great," Lurag replied, "So it can choose the most logical way to tear us to pieces. It's just common sense to take some precautions." Lurag had wheels instead of legs, which was fast in the open, but in a room full of furniture and equipment it might be more useful to have the legs to hop over and under things. Good thing Lurag was in a field that was all lab and brain work. Lurag now had difficulty making his way around the clutter and had to push things aside to move to the table. The small lab had been unused for years, and was filled with equipment that didn't belong anywhere else. Kierz's bipedal form allowed him to just turn sideways or step over things. He considered it from Lurag's point of view. "All right," Kierz conceded, "Restrain it."

Kierz thought a moment and decided to assist Lurag in the task, more to keep on eye on Lurag than to be helpful. No point in damaging the organic more. The organic probably wasn't the super-creature Lurag feared. What was more troubling was that if a scientist like Lurag could be so irrational, how hard would it be to convince the general population there was nothing to fear?

They improvised a means of binding the organic's limbs to the table, enough to convince Lurag it wouldn't jump up and bite him. "I'm due to report to the Director," said Kierz, referring to the director of the space agency. He wasn't actually due for a while yet, but it was better to be early, plus it was a convenient excuse to let Lurag calm down.

Kierz went to his office and shut the door, which squealed a protest as it moved from its normal open position. Kierz opened a secure channel to the Director as the Director had insisted upon since the spacecraft was first found. Director Plaz-zet answered. "Hello Kierz.," he said, and before the greeting could be returned, "What have you found so far?" Plaz-zet was experiencing the conflict of a gregarious person in a hurry.

"I think it's still in self-repair mode...," Kierz began. "Don't use your personal radio!" the Director interrupted, "You don't know who's listening. Use the microphone and speak. And be careful how loud you are."

Kierz did as instructed and picked up the microphone. "There's really nothing to report. It breathes. It lies there. I have no way of knowing when or if it might reactivate."

"Isn't there any way of reactivating it? Surely it's not just a mass of tissue?"

"I don't know enough about organics. No one here does. That's why it's vital we get what information is available, and quickly. Have you heard anything back from the Organics Institute?"

"Rather a grandiose title for a place with three researchers and a cleaning machine. But no, they still haven't agreed to let us have access to their databases."

"Don't they understand...", Kierz started to broadcast in his frustration before catching himself. "Don't they understand what we've got here?"

"No, and it's best we not tell them. Besides just keeping this thing secret while we can, they would want to take over the project. Dr. Yegurtz is rather protective of his scientific niche."

"Why should he be so reluctant to share what he knows, even if he doesn't know why? He should be pleased someone finally cares about his research."

"Dr. Yegurtz is one of those people who takes a great satisfaction in knowing what other people don't. He won't tell anyone anything they don't absolutely have to know, no matter how trivial. I swear I've never told him anything without him either claiming he already knew or dismissing it as irrelevant. I suppose when you're an organicist you take what pleasures you can."

"I must have that information Director, even if I have to download it."

Kierz hated downloading information. He much preferred to read a properly organized report, or even raw data, when he could take it in at leisure and organize it in his own mind. It was possible then to tell what needed to be held in immediate memory and what would just fill up storage space. Downloading, by contrast, was much faster and placed all the information in mind, but it was unsorted. You knew a lot in a short time, but you didn't know what it was you knew or could use, and all connection to the outside world was severed during the process. The outside world could blow up and you wouldn't know it until the last thing you didn't care about was ingested and you were completely reactivated.

"I'll do what it takes," the Director assured him, "even if I have to let him in on what we've got. At least I'll get to see him genuinely surprised for a moment."

It was a disturbing thought to Dr. Kierz that not only might a complete stranger be brought in on the project, and not only might he want to take over, but given his specialty he might be able to. Meanwhile, it seemed pointless to keep studying the organic without having what little data was available on such lifeforms. He could check again to see how the translation of the organic's language was going based on pieces of writing and recordings found in the wreckage, but he would just hear the same refrain of "the computers are working on it." He could check up on the team working on the organic's spacecraft. There appeared to be things to learn about its propulsion, some plastics technology, and more that was far less interesting than the occupant. Good grief, who would have thought something like this could be discovered, and there would be nothing to do?

Kierz moved away from his communications panel and started for the door, only to find that his energy reserves would be strained just to get back to the lab. There was no question he had been overworking lately. He plugged himself into the outlet in the wall. One of the perks of his position was his own private outlet. It was fortuitous he needed to reenergize. He needed time to think in private anyway.

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