Live and Learn… Or Not
She was cute. And English. And Suns, she looked good from this angle. She had the sort of accent that drew the mind to foggy English plains where only perfect mornings occurred. Nevermind that England was mostly rain and “meh.” Simon Corben couldn’t believe it, not in her presence. He’d seen his share of pretty women, even dated a few, but none were like Lina Beaumont; Doctor of Applied Physics for the Interspecies Scientific Collaboration.
Lina sat to Simon’s right, angled ever so slightly toward him, but conversing across a square table with Doctor/Matriarch-Lioness Niala Martin.
For anyone unfamiliar with Simon’s hemisphere of the universe, and its uniquely astonishing history, a Human conversing with a bipedal, talking Lioness was outlandish and impossible to boot. That is of course, only if one came from a hemisphere of time-space where these two species remained separated by an intelligence gap. For anyone else, they were merely another trio of queer creatures in an exceedingly vast and queer universe– one only getting larger and queerer with time.
For Simon’s people, the bridging of the intelligence gap came decades ago, during first contact with an alien species. And like most Human attempts at communication, especially first attempts, first contact with the Zelphod failed.
Like, you don’t even know, man.
All out war between Humans and Zelphod broke out. Battles on the fringes of Earth-space, aka the Sol system, were “not good” on a whole new scale. Then the Zelphod did a thing no-one expected, nor realized the consequences of until Sol’s little hemisphere was already, irreversibly in total chaos.
The Zelphod felt the war was looking to end before it got climactic. They didn’t like that. Nobody likes it when wars do that. Human history teaches us that much, if little else. Especially when the aggressors have those feelings. And started the war. And are the ones trying to win it.
So, the Zelphod did something to Humans reserved for only the most inhuman of themselves to do to each other. Most often, by a specific sect called politicians or dictators. That horrible thing, done unto Sol, was chemical, biological warfare, and came with an unexpected consequence: it was absolutely and inarguably the best thing anyone could have done to Sol and its inhabitants.
But to fully understand why this inhuman thing was the greatest blunder in the history of known blunders, dating back to the widely known Big Bang, you must understand the state of Sol at the time.
The bug-like Zelphod had traveled an unknown number of light-years and astronautical units to reach us. Their species, now living exclusively on specialized generational ships, had wandered the Milky Way for untold eons. That time was filled with so much inner-turmoil that their history was almost entirely lost. Like so many fools, that made them believe they were smart. Smart enough, in fact, to take on a species perpetually at war with itself.
Well, live and learn.
Or not. Whatever.
What the Zelphod learned the hard way, and Sol learned to laugh off, was the extreme efficiency with they could kill off themselves and others species. Or at least, bring them all near enough that nature finished ‘em more incidentally than intentionally. Though good at few things, Solsians, slicing and dicing is one. Which is not to say they’ve ever been limited to that form of murder alone. Indeed, they’d become masters of the arts of not just killing, but killing differently.
Connoisseurs they are, really.
Earth’s dominant species, homosapiens— of which both Doctors Beaumont and Corben could be said to have descended from, if not were guilty of being– were really Sol’s mass-murdering overseers. As evil as they sound, and at times were, Humans weren’t entirely to blame. Nature had done that too. Murdering other species en-masse, be they plant, animal, or otherwise, was just a side-effect of Human existence and intelligence. The latter of which was said to be their strongest suit. Regardless, there was no denying its effectiveness as an evolutionary survival strategy… for them at least.
Whether wholly responsible, or a product of nature’s sadism, Humans were exceptionally good at killing.
But the Zelphod entered Sol without knowing that. Thus, they opened the door to an entire solar system doing its best to kill everyone and everything in it, itself included.
Mostly in those days, it was just Humans killing or being killed; though the animals that would one day gain full sentience were killing each other just fine too. Mostly for food. Humans enjoyed the sport of it. Coincidentally, Humans love sports in general.
Earth itself was killing people too; people, animals, itself. The asteroid belts were killing probes. The few, established extra-Earth outposts were killing their new host planets and moons, and of course, those host planets and moons were evening the score whenever they could.
Needless to say, the rather inexperienced Zelphod, (whom hadn’t had anyone else to kill in eons anyway) opened a door they immediately wanted to close.
A saying states that time makes fools of all peoples. Or something to that affect. The Zelphod prove its truth. Theoretically, they had more time than anyone in Sol to prepare for anything. Even eons later they weren’t prepared for the Solsians making soggy corpses of everything in sight. Solsians; apex of murder-death in the near galaxy. Had they not already slipped Earth’s surly bonds, perhaps the Zelphod would’ve stood a chance. But they had. And the Zelphod didn’t.
Well, live and learn…. Or not. Whatever.
In the roundabout way of things, the Zelphod were suddenly forced to do something, lest they too become victims of the masters of murder-death. Having managed to retain some intelligence before entirely ensuring it never mattered again, they scanned Sol, its planets, and its various species. From the vacuum around it, to the smallest microbe on the flea’s proverbial tits, the Zelphod scan of Sol and its components led to a scheme:
A scheme that backfired so grandly, only a few decades later a pair of Humans found themselves sitting with a Lioness, discussing nothing in particular. Not that they couldn’t discuss anything they wanted, they simply cared not to. Such was the way of Solsian intelligence that their propensity for depth made them prefer not to use it.
Atop the pile of their people’s still-soggy corpses, the Zelphod decided to unleash a biological weapon on Sol. Specifically, on Earth, homeworld to Solsian life. The next years of utter chaos damned near turned the tides of the war. For a time, the Zelphod thought themselves the eventual victors.
Latent genes in untold numbers of Earth-species, from big cats to wolves, from birds to rats, and from just about everything in, around, and between, to everything else, were activated. These genes, unleashed via biologically engineered contaminants, forced rapid mutations. Godzilla occurred across a massive spectrum and in months, save the gigantism– though some cities were destroyed.
That was the plan, the scheme. Chaos. Madness. Low morale. Zero war-effort. A plan fulfilled…
For all of five, solar minutes.
The chaos passed with Humans quickly convincing the newly “evolved” that their system was in danger too. The reason was simple– well actually, the reason was extremely complex. The result was simple; everybody turned to lunge at the Zelphod. The reason was that the same, latent gene for Humanoid growth, also carried the latent gene for sentience and awareness. Or at least, it carried something that carried that. In either event, it too, was activated.
That was never planned for.
The Zelphod victory turned to assured defeat after it dawned that they’d doubled the manpower against them. The Human-Animal Alliance was quickly created, known colloquially as the HAA, and formed a military force that took advantage of the various animals’ natural abilities. Murder-death capital Sol got specialized reinforcements to continue the murder-deathing in exciting, new ways.
For, despite being absolutely overwhelmed in nearly every fight, the Zelphod had one advantage against Sol’s people until then. Simply, numbers. The Zelphod, bug-like in all ways, were also bug-like in their reproduction. It took merely weeks to double a generational ship’s numbers, which might run somewhere in the hundreds of thousands. Thus, every available Solsian “soul” was quickly committed to the fight, including the newly evolved. The HAA soon became part of the animal wing of the Sol Federation military.
Sol’s majority, forced to put aside their prejudice, fought side-by-side with the “mutants”, “freaks,” “the zoo,” lest they were all overwhelmed by the man-eating ant-hill they’d fallen into. For once, Solsians stopped killing one another (mostly), to turn to killing a common foe. Through that unity, the soggy corpses were added to and the attrition kept from attritting long enough for the Solsians to overwhelm the Zelphod right back and kick them out of Sol.
Even as Simon stared,moonstruck, at the Human female from outsideSussex, the Zelphod were lingering outside Sol trying to establish some life for what was left of their wounded species. Part of the cease-fire had been a check on their population growth– which given the circumstances, was reasonably agreed to. In fact, agreeing to it might have been the smartest thing the Zelphod had ever done. Only time might yet tell how their fortunes fared or not.
And also, as Simon stared moonstruck at the Human female from outside Sussex, all of these facts swirled in the recesses of his learned mind. For, as intelligent as he was and as basic as this knowledge had become, he remained Human and it remained second to the present.
Presently Simon, like all infatuated creatures– for indeed both cause and effect appear pandemic to the known universe, if not always connected– was about to make a complete and utter ass of himself. How? By doing that most usual of all things; opening his mouth.
Admittedly, he did not compound the situation by speaking, and thus saved himself some hardship. But ultimately, he could not escape the fated stringhe’d sewn himself.
His mouth slacked, opened as if an occupied bathroom’s unlatched door on a draft. Then, driven by absent mindedness and the draft, it eased the rest of the way open until almost fully ajar. There it remained, its embarrassing contents in full-view long enough to be noticed by the Lioness.
And ridiculed without mercy.
Their long fondness for one another allowed Niala no qualms about revealing the utter ass for its assyness. Completely oblivious to reality, Simon only vaguely sensed the laughter that beganrolling from Niala’s throat. It startedlike a purr, then fell into hissing snickers that stole Lina’s captivating voice from his ears.
“Wha–” Lina began.
She caught Niala’s gaze, hid her face. Simon stared, slack-jawed with infatuation. Lina did her best not to blush, but snickered. Simon caught on. He flushed, beet-red.Niala collapsed. Hissing snickers turned to full-on, roars of laughter. Simon snarled at Niala, having gained something of her people from her over the years.
It fell short.
So short Lina’s minor glimpse of it fractured her internal levee. As if flooding from a dam, she spit flecks of coffee at the air before her laughing mouth was half-covered.
“Oh hell! Fine. I’m going,” Simon said, launching himself upright.
His knees slammed the table he’d forgotten existed. His coffee hopped up, decided mid-air that gravity existed, and it was a cup, toppled over, and spilled its contents along his front.
Niala fell from her chair, betwixt laugh-roars and choking for air. She kicked at the air on her back, rolled onto her paws, choking and laugh-roaring. If she’d been a house-cat, Simon decided, she might’ve been regurgitating a hairball.
He stormed away, absolutely certain he would soon be murdering Niala, then himself. Self-murder was still termed suicide, of course, but Simon’s mind was too displaced to know that. Rather, it was somewhere near the mass of meat and fluids called “body,” scrambling for a towel, and reeling from the revelation of his feelings to their mark.
Simonsurvived long enough to mop up the spilt coffee, then busied himself with making a new cup for as long as Humanly possible. Simon’s reality said it still wasn’t long enough. Everyone else’s said it was much longer than necessary. Too long. He distracted himself while the laughter lulled to conversation and the conversation lulled to nothingness. Soon, Niala’s chair scraped the floor, signaling her departure. He continued on with his coffee, unaware of the half-container of sugar now dissolving in it.
Homer’s break room, such that it was, remained smaller than Simon’s pride hoped. Thus, avoiding the object of his affections was nigh impossible. Unfortunately for Simon, who’d only just begun traveling aboard Homer, his mind had yet to properly fit its proportions in his mind. As such, the tap on his shoulder came in the most innocuous way, but unavoidably so.
He swiveled ‘round to find Lina’s golden eyes gleaming softly at him. “If you’d like to have coffee with me, just ask. Okay?”
He winced, “I didn’t mean to–”
She grimaced, “Opening your mouth is inadvisable today.” He blushed. “I’ll see you later–” She stepped away, pausing with a smile, “Simon.”
Being addressed made him giddy. He watched her disappear out the door, raised his coffee to drink. A series of binary beeps stopped him. It accompanied low murmuring as Engineer Donnelly entered alongside Rearden; Simon’s faithful companion, assistant, and gourd-like robot extraordinaire. The little bot beeped its binary speech back and forth to Donnelly as he stepped beside Simon.
“What’re you smiling like an idiot for?” Donnelly asked.
Rearden beeped something sarcastic. Donnelly laughed.
“Smart-ass bot,” Simon grumbled.
“Aye, but you love ‘im.” Donnelly filled his cup and turned away. “C’mon Giddy Lee, we’ve got work.”
Donnelly was right. And anyway, he’d done the hard part. Making contact with Lina after the embarrassment was over. He thought about it, realizing it went even better than expected, and felt better. He was giddy.
He readied to follow Donnelly and Rearden, sighed to sequester Lina at the back of his brain, and took a swig off coffee.
And immediately spit it across the break room, ensuring one last soggy fact occupied his memory.