The trout slides through the water, skin tingling with the electric fields of its environment, hunger driving it upstream. Flowing water alternately compresses and caresses its skin; sounds boom around it, tiny variations of water pressure on its inner ear and along its lateral line. Light flickers and dances on the silver surface above, and on the clean umber sand below. Silt tickles its gills, and there’s a faint sense of prey coming closer. It waits in an eddy for sustenance to arrive. There is movement everywhere, then one particular movement perturbs the surface; the trout’s mouth gapes, and it surges upwards and breaks the surface, capturing the fly, and its stomach fills. But it’s not enough. It slides back into its eddy. And now, there’s another fly drifting downstream, coming within reach, and the trout lunges for it….
The fisherman’s in his element, savoring every moment whether or not it will end in a fish. He’s seen them in the eddy pools, lulled by the current to a somnolence that would let him slip his hands beneath them and tickle them from the water’s embrace, or even just net them. But he’s a sportsman, and that’s not the point of being here. Wind tickles his hair where it protrudes from beneath a spectacularly ugly hat. It’s a sunny day with cloud-dappled skies, and when the sun peeks between the clouds, it gets warm. There’s a scent composed of clean water, of growing things, of sunwarmed rubber waders, of clean sweat mingled with DEET. An occasional breeze carries away the sweat and DEET. The stream murmurs, a soothing background noise, and lulls him like the water lulls the fish.
He projects the fly, flimsy line sweeping back, forth, back again, until at last it’s far enough out he can let it drop. The hand-tied fly alights upon the water’s surface with the slightest ripple, hesitating a moment before drifting downstream. His thoughts drift with it and with the water sweeping past his waders. He remembers, in his muscles, setting a hook, wrestling with a fish, fatiguing rather than overpowering it. He remembers the shock of bashing its brains out on a rock, and remembers cleaning and dressing it, building a fire, and eating the juicy pink flesh, still half raw in places. He senses as much as feels the trout rising to the bait, adjusts his footing, and prepares to snap the end of the rod and set the hook….
The alien ship hovers invisibly in geosynchronous orbit, cloak engaged. Electromagnetic radiation sleets about the ship, but the cloak is multifunctional; the same property that bends light around it also diverts radiation that would harm the occupants. The sun’s above the horizon, and the planet glows beneath them, brilliant blue of oceans with diamond glints, glaring white of clouds, brown and fresh green of soil and vegetation. It’s a lovely place, but the aliens aren’t here for sightseeing. At the Science station, one leans over the scanner, intent on fulfilling the search parameters. An AI assistant narrows the data, searching, progressively homing in on the ideal solution. There’s a large, sunlit continent, with a narrow waist near the equator and sparsely settled, that stretches nearly from pole to pole, but the locale of most interest right now is in the northern hemisphere.
They’ve come many light years for this moment. The technological achievement is impressive, particularly the part about cheating physics to arrive here within days rather than lifetimes. But the biological achievement will be even greater: the chance to prove not just that life exists elsewhere in the cosmos (they’ve done that already in their own solar system), but rather that tool-using intelligent life exists, never mind the decades wasted fruitlessly scanning for it on every gravitational and dark energy frequency known to science. There are those who still believe intelligent life is unique to their one lonely planet orbiting an insignificant sun. Today, they’ll be proven wrong.
The sensor station pings quietly, and Science station transfers the location to the Ops console. A nervous operator takes a deep breath, streamers of methane exiting through frilly gills, then focuses the scanners on their target. There’s a clear gravitational signature that shows a carbon and calcium frame containing large quantities of liquid water, covered from apex to nadir by a synthetic inorganic sheath and surrounded by external water that flows past, bearing many lesser life forms. The target is making motions consistent with an effort to capture those lesser life forms. The Ops officer manipulates an algorithm, and a credible facsimile of one of those life forms instantiates in the flowing water. It moves slowly towards a synthetic extension of the target. There’s a capture device at the end of that extension, and Ops guides the simulacrum towards that device. The target moves to capture the life form, and Ops moves to capture the target….
In a higher dimensional pocket of space-time, the energy being watches, bemused, as its creation moves towards the alien ship’s bait. Wheels within wheels, and where does it end? The being glances back over what would have been a shoulder before the singularity, suddenly nervous that it too is being watched. Nonsense, it concludes. There are, and could be no watchers. It extends a tendril of spacetime towards the spaceship….
Startled by an aggressive dictionary during the 9th month of her pregnancy, Geoff’s mother was shortly delivered of a child who showed a precocious antipathy towards the users of words. Over time, he was able to transform this antipathy into a more functional, if equally passive-aggressive, career as an editor. After nearly 30 years, the verbal flame burns as intensely as ever, leading to an errant, semi-evangelical career ranting against the evils of words from pulpits at any editing or technical writing conference that will have him, tirelessly seeking new recruits for his cause. In his spare time, he roams the globe, entertaining and enlightening locals with his creative and uninhibited interpretations of their linguistic conventions. He also commits occasional fictions. Visit him online at http://www.geoff-hart.com/.