Salt. Pain. Wet. Wait, wet?
I inhaled, relieved I could. One eye opened, then the other. I tested the limbs.
Observe. Report. Those were the orders.
The limbs moved and I crawled out of the wetness. Sand slid under my belly. A tiny creature approached. One claw large the other small.
It tasted like salt too.
With movement came memory.
This planet was ringed with devices, far more than anticipated. There was a ping, a shudder, and then the view went black, blue, black, green, blue as I tumbled planet-side.
I didn’t trust my lower limbs until I knew from what the pain stemmed, so I crawled into a thicket of shrubs. It was cooler, not inner cave cool but better than the broiling surface the soft shells preferred. It was easier to observe surface dwelling species but far less pleasant to visit.
That my ship was unreachable was a given. Without a favorable report from me there would be no additional visit. My silence would be taken as failure and the whole sector scrubbed. The dominate species had put thousands of trinkets in orbit, so they had the means. If the ancients showed favor I could find my way back to the stars.
Sound reached me. I know the dominant species here is a soft shell that communicates like an unchallenged, all noise and waving limbs. It was not the primary language I had learned to distinguish. Perhaps the secondary. Yes. The secondary.
“Yes. Right here, but out there.”
I peered through the brush. Two ugly soft shells stood on the sand and pointed out over the water. One was tethered to a smaller multicolored creature that moved its snout over the tracks I had left during my haste to flee heat. Leaving a trail was a junior scout mistake and one likely to cause me trouble.
As if the ancients had heard me the smaller creature began to make a hideous noise and pull the soft shell it was attached to towards my location. I crept sideways until I was in a wider clearing.
Fleeing was not an option, not that I would have chosen it anyway. I had the claws of six challengers adorning my halls and a seventh pair on my belt. I did not flee.
The soft shells followed the loud creature right to the clearing. I gave a warning scent and the smaller creature quieted and hid behind the soft shell’s lower limbs. I would have to make note that the creatures on four limbs seemed to understand proper communication where as the ones on two did not.
I searched for a proper response but could find none for ‘slow down’ and ‘defecate’.
“Peace,” I rasped. That seemed to relax them.
“Welcome.” This word I was familiar with. It was promising.
I pointed with a mid limb towards the water. “Ship.”
“Oh, yeah, yeah I saw your ship splash down. Cool,” said the tethered one. No scent glands and noisy, definitely like the unchallenged.
The other one spoke for the first time. “Are you alone?”
I felt more authority in his tone.
“For now.” I stood to my full height and towered over the soft shells. New authority had to be challenged to see if it was worthy.
The noisy one stumbled back, bleating its word for defecation and holding a small rectangle up in front of it like it would ward me off. The other put his hand on a device at his midsection.
“Whoa. Easy. Peace.”
I stayed still. “Ship. Lift. Go.”
“We get your ship out and you go away. Is that what you’re saying?”
I thought I was clear. Perhaps repetition was a custom. “Agreed.”
“What happens if we can’t fix your ship and you’re stuck here?”
I’d die alone and judging from the environment probably from the heat. This was an end I did not want. One only became an ancient if they died in battle. However, they did not need to know this. “More come. Eat you.” I snapped my top claw at him and he ran.
Not authority enough.
The star went down and the temperature became bearable. Small creatures roamed. Once I figured out the skins were removable I found them tasty if a bit salty.
Shortly after first light came more soft shells, many more.
The planet’s single star was not yet overhead so the temperature was tolerable and at their request I ventured out onto the white sand. This was a good sign. Violence was not conducted over white ground.
Soft shells surrounded me with devices at the ready. Their fear permeated the breeze. If they thought numbers would sway me they were mistaken.
One in particular stank of terror and trembled. The device in his hands, a weapon I presumed though I could not see an edge for cutting, jerked up towards my throat. I snapped it in half without leaving so much as a scratch on him. Honor points to me.
The others brought their weapons up just as a cry came from the vehicles beyond. “Stand down!” The thrum of authority was unmistakable and all weapons lowered.
A soft shell, slightly smaller than those ringing me, stepped forward. It took me a moment to realize it was a female. Odd to see an egg bearer without wings.
“Peace. We wish Peace. I am Sargent MacTavish. May we have your name?”
I told her my name but I knew it would be unpronounceable to her kind. She listened intently anyway. “May I call you Zock?”
It would have to do. “Yes.”
She nodded. “If you remain on this planet others of your kind will come and eat us. Is this what you told the officer yesterday?”
“What if we do our best but cannot repair your ship? Can you communicate with your people and tell them not to come?” She sounded like authority but her worthiness was in doubt.
“You are in charge?”
“For now, yes.” I took a slow step towards her. “You can command my ship to be raised from the salty water?”
She stood her ground. “I can.”
“Then do so!” I snapped my top claw close enough to her face for her to feel the air move. Weapons lifted all around but she did not flinch, nor did she take her eyes from mine as she ordered her people to stand down.
“I can also have you shot dead and we’ll take our chances on if you’re telling the truth or not.”
She was worthy. I sat back on my lower limbs. “If my ship proves unrepairable I will try to communicate to my commanders.”
I retreated to the cool shade as the sand area became overwhelmed by scurrying soft shells. I was still unsure if they, as a whole, would be allies or just another food source but at least I knew a few were worthy of further study.