by Craig H. Bowlsby
“Translate This” was originally published in the science fiction magazine, Polar Borealis, issue 6 (2018). Other recent published fiction includes: “The Last of the Shamrocks” in Aethlon the sports literature magazine, issue 36-1, (2020); and “One Day in Tom’s Life with Ice Cream,” in Neo-opsis science fiction magazine, issue 30, (2019).
Upcoming fiction will be found in Neo-opsis science fiction: “The Day the Earth Didn’t Stand Still” issue 32, expected Summer 2021; and a story in the JayHenge science fiction anthology on Joining Forces, expected in the Fall of 2021.
Craig H. Bowlsby’s other works include the hockey history books: “Empire of Ice, the Rise and Fall of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, 1911-1926,” and “1913, the Year They Invented the Future of Hockey,” for which Craig won the 2014 Brian McFarlane award from the Society for International Hockey Research.
Craig is currently working on a detective/thriller novel that takes place in 1917 in Shanghai. Stay tuned!
Zeebuusz45-With-Enhanced-Reticulum was facing imminent mission failure.
His lower right movement pod was trapped painfully in the metal teeth of a forest clamp; and his precise mission parameters allowed no time for being captured in any device. But he still refused to send a distress call to the orbiting scout ship, as that would also spell instant career failure, which, for Zebuloids, was very very unpleasant.
The plan had been simple: land in a secluded spot on the third planet from the system’s sun; pick up selected plant and soil samples, and return immediately to space. Then he would bask in the glory of the first successful exploration to this curious and valuable planet. His data would provide the key to further exploration and justify the enormous expense of a thousand years of preparation. There was no telling when the next such mission could be mounted.
Zeebuusz45-With-Enhanced-Reticulum’s specialty was his speed and skill with his reticulum. Sleek and responsive, his thin, strong reticulum outperformed all others, and he’d trained tirelessly. He could farbulate faster than an artificial farbulator; he could twazzul to a thousand twazzlerites. He was enormously proud of his top-level simulated mission results and his extreme efficiency—a highly valued trait on Zebulon. But here, on this alien planet, his efficiency had somehow faltered. He hadn’t found the required plants immediately in this dark forest and he hadn’t expected a metal trap to attack him, only a few tentacle lengths from his landed disc-flyer. His tools couldn’t dislodge the trap, and he couldn’t yank it out, even though he’d thrashed so hard he’d bruised his interior gullet. If he somehow escaped he’d still be interrogated mercilessly by his superior, Zeebuusz43-With-Enhanced-Tentacles, and probably demoted to waste product sublimation. His flyer only sat a few large tentacles away, but he couldn’t even reach that. Yet time was ovulating, and only ten micro units remained in the original plan.
Fortunately, none of his three major body components—his large round head, his larger round thorax and even larger abdomen—had been damaged, and if necessary, he would anesthetize his stumpy, captured pod, burn it right off, and then jump for the disc.
But he couldn’t do that yet because the situation had got even worse—some alien creatures were approaching. He could smell them and hear them, and a light beam came from one of their reticulated appendages stabbing through the dark brush.
He cowered as the aliens closed in, snapping the branches and plants around them, and suddenly they appeared, about ten small reticula away. There were two of them, shadowy, upright figures. They stopped still, leaving the forest silent, except for their strange hissing.
Zeebuusz45-With-Enhanced-Reticulum sucked in his hydrogen hard through his skin. The aliens, at least, weren’t wild animals. They appeared semi-sentient. Their shape indicated, roughly, upright quadrupeds. They had two lower articulated travel pods, or extensions, and two articulated upper extensions. They each had a working, rounded brain centre on top, although obscured by the darkness. They each had two ocular ports with glassy oculi. They had surprisingly few tentacles—if any. And they carried some manufactured objects. Both had a long thin metal device—possibly a weapon with a tubular section. The light device carried by the taller alien blinded the Zebuloid’s four sensory orbs.
Aghast, Zeebuusz45-With-Enhanced-Reticulum swallowed hard down his slurry hole. He thought of puffing up his rough red skin to look bigger. But then he remembered his alien translator—the Trabuusslote. Thank the stars! The built-in electronic brain-wear, deep inside his puffy head would save the Zebuloid day! The Advanced Ones on his planet had spent thousands of solar rotations developing such a device, and they had finally succeeded.
Trembling, Zeebuusz45-With-Enhanced-Reticulum flicked on his audio intake valve and waited eagerly to hear the aliens’ communication. The two creatures uttered more hissing and growling. The Trabuusslote in its turn beeped non-committedly. Of course, no definitive exactitude existed with this kind of interface. They hadn’t studied the planet long: indeed, their mission involved getting in and out quickly. Furthermore, bizarrely, this planet’s language had over two hundred known variations. The Communication Corps held many samples of data but they’d tried only experimental constructions. Even context would be difficult. The Trabuusslote’s task was enormous.
Finally, one of the creatures gasped out more sounds, and the Trabuusslote beeped earnestly in Zeebuusz45-With-Enhanced-Reticulum’s brain. But the situation was dire, and he couldn’t wait—efficiency was key. He willed the Trabuusslote into speed mode. It beeped more rapidly and the translation came out: “Question—interrogative, regarding the reproductive capabilities of Zeebuusz45-With-Enhanced-Reticulum.”
The what??? asked Zeebuusz45-With-Enhanced-Reticulum to himself. The Trabuusslote just beeped, waiting.
Zeebuusz45-With-Enhanced-Reticulum panicked. He waved his reticulum up and down, cranking its two main joints back and forth, negatively. The taller alien shouted and the Trabuusslote translated quickly: “Question—interrogative, regarding the reproductive function of your reticulum.”
“Gaah!” said Zeebuusz45-With-Enhanced-Reticulum. He stepped back, causing a shooting pain in his pod. He instinctively released a spray of calming pheromones in a pink diaphanous cloud.
The aliens shouted and raised their tubes. The Trabuusslote said in his brain: “Question—interrogative, regarding the reproductive function of your pheromone.”
Zeebuusz45-With-Enhanced-Reticulum nodded up and down negatively. He phizzed out an answer of hisses and clicks through his orifice: “No, No! You should only reproduce among yourselves!”
The speaker under his head whined out a strange jumble, translating his words into the alien language.
The ocular and vocal orifices of the two aliens widened. Unfortunately, before the Zebuloid could add anything about peace, the two aliens raised their weapons, and apart from a loud noise and a flash, that was all Zeebuusz45-With-Enhanced-Reticulum ever heard or saw before his brain exploded; and the great Zebuloid mission ended, tragically. (And inefficiently).