The backwater natives were going to wish on me, I just knew it. Stupid underdeveloped savages always had backwards rituals. Over on Callixne, anytime someone called your mother a bad name, you’d bow four times and then slap two of your foreheads in grief. The natives of Debnre said that the only way to avoid misfortune was to lap up five spoonfuls of salt every morning. And over on Plutrach, if you couldn’t tie your tentacles in a knot with your mate in under ten seconds, you’d have every right to sue for divorce.
But every useless non-starlanecoursed world I’d visited thought that any debris burning up on atmospheric entry was fodder for wish fulfillment. “Always wish on a shooting star.”
And now that my scoutship had malfunctioned and I was going down, there was nothing to do but admit that I was going to be wished on.
I wrapped my foreclaws around the navigation bones, twisting and turning them so I might be able to make a relatively pleasant landing. Or at least not explode. I hate those kinds of landings. They’re hard to walk away from.
The dactyl stabilizer shattered into a million sparks and flew away from its housing. One punch on the bone controlling tilt allowed me to compensate. I didn’t want to land on my head.
I spotted a copse of trees on the sensor bar. Should be large enough for me to drop into undetected. The area appeared sparsely populated by the dominant species. All right, time to do this.
One foreclaw and then another grasped the ejection bones. My seat flew out of the cockpit, my scoutship rocketing on beyond me. No matter. I’d be able to assimilate into local society soon enough. I just needed a small tissue sample.
My parachute ballooned above me, but as soon as I knew I could survive the drop, I released it. The chute would be a liability. The locals, we were fairly certain, had not yet chanced on airflight, though they had tapped into the elemental forces so often prevalent in preindustrial worlds.
Now I needed a tissue sample and time to work my own brand of scientific magic. Scenting the air, I found a trace of fabric. Someone had been through here recently, and alone. Time to go hunting.
I raced ahead, using my foreclaws for added speed. There. I could see it. By the scent, it was a female of the species, and I guessed a young one at that. As I drew closer, muffling my clawsteps as best I could, I breathed in as deeply as I dared.
This one had friends. Many scents from many locals mingled on her; she would be missed too quickly for me to use. Well, at least for a tissue sample. Perhaps I could use her another way. The locals believed in magic, and so they’d probably accept another species on the road, though with fear and trembling. All I had to do was find a way to communicate.
She sang to herself as she traveled through the dark wood. I listened to her words and could soon understand much of the syntax of her language and a rudimentary vocabulary. Enough that I’d be able to understand, at least.
I stepped next to her on the path, matching her speed. “Little girl, to where are you going?” I asked, attempting to synch my voice modulation to her hearing range, based on her own vocal patterns.
She startled, looking at me. “Transitional particle, Mr. Savage-Canine, I am traveling to my maternal ancestor’s.”
Apparently she was making some kind of pilgrimage to pay homage. She carried what smelled like baked goods in a woven basket. Most societies turned maternal ancestors into great matriarchs, but I shouldn’t make that kind of assumption here. We often fed our maternal ancestors a great feast before we devoured them, adding their strength to our own. “And why do you travel to see your maternal ancestor?”
“She is diseased and unable to leave her den,” she answered.
Ah. Quarantine, then. That would make a perfect one to sample, then. She would be alone for great periods of time, no doubt. Long enough for me to do my preliminary work, at least.
“Travel safely, young one, and pay your homage.” I nodded my great furry head once and allowed the creature with the red pelt to go on to her maternal ancestor’s den. I would let her move ahead of me, and after she left, I would go about my business.
I waited as long as I cared to, and then raced off along the path, finding the den. It stood above ground and defenseless. A single wooden barricade barred entrance, but it rested on hinges. I entered in and found a frail creature lying in her bed. She screamed as she saw me, but I took my tissue sample and then she was quiet. She wouldn’t bother me again.
I felt my body going to work, analyzing her genetic signature and altering my own to match it. If I was going to infiltrate, I had to look like one of them, and the first step was making sure I understood their genome.
A knock sounded at the wooden barricade. No! It was too early. I had not yet taken the maternal ancestor’s form. I leapt into the padded sleeping mat she had been lying on and pulled up a cover, hiding as much of my form as I could. Just in time; the young female entered.
Stupid young female. She must have been slow moving up the path.
“Why, maternal ancestor! What large eyes you have!”
I shifted the focus of my genetic transformation to my vocal cords. “I wish to see you better,” I warbled. I had to make her pay her homage and leave quickly, or else I risked discovery!
“Why, maternal ancestor! What large ears you have!”
“I wish to hear you better.” Would this prattling cub continue to gnaw at my patience?
“Why, maternal ancestor! What large teeth you have!”
Oh, she was going to figure it out anyway. It wasn’t too early for a second tissue sample.
After I’d eaten her, I lay down on the wooden floor of the den, allowing my body to analyze another sampling of local DNA. I could feel my bones compacting to a smaller size, my teeth shrinking, and my furry body losing much of its harshness.
And then another knock, and three adult males strode in, wielding sharp objects at the end of long handles. I growled. Why should I fear? What could three human hunters do to me?
This post written in response to the prompt “A Science Fiction Fairy Tale.”