“The Tremors of Squirm (part of The Langford Joh Saga)” by William Alan Rieser

Meeting with Mr. Tentaculus, by Romeo Esparrago

Malorchia was content, savoring the newness of her first birthling on Pollis as Iron Feather steered his craft out of the Equuid system. Now that the most important and personal matters had been attended to properly, it was time to police the quadrant for the Confederation.

The first order of business was for Iron Feather to check in with his father via a privately established communicator. Langford Joh gave out very few of them, for the Prail technology was based upon their own nerve impulses from the days before the Prail became pure energy beings. Captain Iron Feather was permitted a device because of their father-son relationship. He pushed the green button and waited patiently for Langford’s image to appear on a floating screen by his command chair.

Once, his father permitted a visit to Manic, after getting permission from Nadirian. It had taken every ounce of composure for the Captain to hide his feelings. The throne converted Langford into a permanent fixture. Everything about his father was bio-mechanical now, with strange transparent tubes surrounding his girth with multi-colored liquids speeding within to hidden sacs. No limbs of any kind, but a tendril growing out of the forehead for utilitarian purposes. His face was still what he remembered, but the skin was golden-flaked. The remembered expressions existed, but the eyes were totally black and almost soulless, though he knew that was not true.

“It’s what I have to be to fill this position,” Langford explained back then, as though his son could accept the logic easily. “To visualize the cosmos.”

Iron Feather gave in and said, “That does not mean I have to like it.”

Langford understood and spent the remaining time demonstrating how the various consoles worked should he ever need his son’s assistance, unlikely as that might be. He was smart enough to divert his son’s attention and anger at what the Prail required of his body.

But now, something disturbed him. His father did not respond to the call. That was impossible by the very nature of the device. Because he was the throne, as the green button illuminated, contact must always be immediate. Nothing short of Manic’s total destruction could prevent it.

“Confirm the presence of Manic,” he commanded a senior droid.

“Verified. Orbiting its sun as always.”

What could be wrong? Is he dead? Captured and ransomed? Impossible with the Prail. Then what?

“Can you penetrate the Manic atmosphere for a life form within the core?”

“Not possible, I think, but I’ll try. Your father?”

“Yes.”

“As I thought, the Prail shields cannot be penetrated by our technology.”

“Is it possible to use the new shield thinner if we go there?”

“Unknown.”

“Plot a course to Manic and don’t argue with me.”

“Affirmative.”

Can I reach Nadirian? The Prail?

“You realize the best we can probably do is establish orbit, unless you get permission,” the droid said.

“I know that. Let’s move.”

Before orbit was achieved, a Prail made its presence known.

“You are the son, the Iron Feather. We have been examining this anomaly. Are you here to assist?”

“Yes. I cannot contact my father.”

“Neither can we. Nadirian also is missing. According to our logic, such disappearances are not possible with known physics. Yet the throne, which is symbiant with your father, does not respond. It too is not in the core.”

“Then both he and Nadirian have been taken. By whom? To where? For what purpose?”

“There are only two possibilities. A chaotic expression, an accident.”

“And the other must be a deliberate cause… by an entity,” Iron Feather responded.

“With one exception. We call it a Gerithon, a combination of a cause with an accidental effect. We are inclined to investigate the former. If you wish to seek the latter, you have our permission to enter the throne room for seeking evidence.”

“Thank…” Iron Feather started to say, but was immediately whisked by the Prail to the center of Manic. He had forgotten that they no longer required speech and could insert themselves into most entity’s thoughts. The transport was both dizzying and exhilarating.

The console remained. He held his communicator and a scanner. The room yielded nothing conclusive. He knew that his father kept intricate mental logs of everything he and the throne examined. But the data was stored in the throne. The console was essentially useless to him.

Suddenly, he remembered something from his father’s training. The plasma screens retained all recent observations. They can be recalled by passing the capacitance in one’s hand over the sensors.

The encapsulated recall showed that his father had been multi-tasking. Forty-six separate screens proved it. He would have to observe each of them and extract the last according to Earth time. Fortunately, the third screen proved to be the one he sought. Langford had described the Nadir experience in detail to his son, including the name and strange appearance of Dr.Mujjafel, the Glorimad leader of the Beld.

It was difficult to interpret the meaning of the image on the third screen. Perhaps he could establish contact through the same device.

“Dr. Mujjafel, can you hear me. This is the son of Langford Joh. We have an emergency situation.”

Iron Feather tried to transmit that message in all the ways his father once described. None worked. He wracked his brain for understanding. None of the console transmit devices seemed to make any difference. He then remembered how clever his father was at disguising obvious items. A transmitter button, one he thought was exceptionally important, might possibly be camouflaged. But where could it be? There were thousands of console control mechanisms. The Beld screen remained motionless, floating before him as he sought an answer.

And then he saw it on the side of the plasma screen itself, a voice-activated turquoise rose, his mother’s icon, the symbol of his parents’ love for each other. Now he had to think of the code word his father would have used to activate the device. He tried Nadir, Glorimad, Mujjafel, Beld, and all words from the Nadir episode. Nada. He tried every word he could recollect his father using about his mother, where they met, how they came to fall in love, the poems he wrote to honor her premature death in giving birth to himself. Again, nothing. What am I missing? It has to be an important name!

And then it came to him, the name of the entity Langford had encountered on Nadir, very probably the creator of the known galaxy.

“Pmudis!” he spoke firmly.

“Ah. Langford,” said Dr. Mujjafel. “I have been…? You are not Langford Joh.”

“No. I am his son. He is missing.”

“Missing? Did you hear that, Puhl? Langford must have been trapped by the Squirm.”

“Please explain.”

“A temporal entity came through the Beld recently. In tracking its progress, we discovered that it was attempting to reproduce itself, to mate with another of its kind. We called it the Squirm because of its size.”

“How large?”

“A systemwide being, great enough to swallow whole planets. When last I spoke to your father, another anomaly presented itself. Our scan, as transmitted to Manic, induced the creature to disappear. At first, we thought it simply returned to another dimension. However, it is possible the transmission transported the creature to your father, to the Manic core. We suspected there was a communication failure of some kind. This happened several lags before you reestablished contact.”

“Then the entity is here?”

“Probably, but in a different time. Nadirian was also present.”

“How do I get them back?”

“That depends upon when they are; also, what they might have done during their absence. I do believe your father is intelligent enough to know that any temporal changes on his part could prove disastrous. Any alteration might affect the whole galaxy. I now suspect he is waiting for someone to pull him back through the rift, if you can find it. We can’t do that from here.”

“You have a rift-detection capability?”

“Yes. But it is impossible for me to send it to you.”

“I’ll have to ask the Prail.”

“Ah, yes. The energy beings responsible for his appearance. They are your best chance. Tell them this rift entity moves triangularly at 33 degrees; 48 degrees when it keys on other temporal creatures as potential mates.”

“Thank you, Dr….”

Again he was not permitted to finish his thought. The Prail had been listening.

“He is there, Iron Feather. We can see him and Nadirian. The entity is coiled about them. It believes the throne emits temporal radiation. This accounts for the attraction.”

“So this beast is trying to mate with…”

“We are attempting communication. Stand still. Do not clutter the issue by thinking.”

Whatever the Prail were doing, the throne room began to emanate bright colors. For an instant, Iron Feather thought he saw a gigantic beast, a mythical dragon of immense proportions. In that moment, he recognized how it had coiled itself about a central glowing presence. Can that be my father?

Abruptly, the Prail increased their energy and radiated incandescent javelins of speeding messages, represented by every color imaginable. The spears commenced as bright yellow and constantly altered to the darker hues. When forest green was attempted, the beast became visible and reacted, uncoiling itself rapidly. Its monstrous head contained thousands of eyes and other sensory organs, all of which probed for the source of the Prail’s transmission.

There seemed to be a contest of wills for a moment, then a recognition. Finally, the dragon retreated and zigzagged away from the throne room at triangular 33 degree angles. Apparently the Prail had been successful. But where was his father?

That resolved itself shortly, for the throne began to resume its presence in pieces as the light of the room returned to normal. Nadirian also returned at his father’s side. Both were cupping what passed for their auditory senses.

“Thank the Prail,” breathed Langford heavily. “I couldn’t stand another love song from that imbecile.”

“You and me both,” added a relieved Nadirian. “I believe my symphonic membranes have suffered permanent damage.”

“Son? What are you doing here?”

“Hi dad. Just checking in to see if you had anything interesting for me.” *

Read the previous Langford Joh story: http://planetmag.com/blog/index.php?p=29

About the Author: William Alan Rieser, born in New York City, less than 3 miles from the World Trade Center, originally was a musician and spent many years composing, conducting, teaching, and performing music on the East Coast. His earliest writing influences were Tolkien, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Poul Anderson. He is now retired in Fort Worth, Texas, with his wife, Sandra, who edits his writings and doesn’t give him the slightest break on syntax or style, even though he expresses nought but loving thoughts to her. For several years he experimented with short stories for SF/F e-zines but now prefers to concentrate on more developed themes. In this last year, he published “The Kaska Trilogy” and “The Chronicles of Zusalem” via Writers Club Press, an organization associated with iUniverse and Barnes and Noble. His latest novel, “Luna Parabella”, has received a rave review at Amazon.com. Many other novels have been completed and are awaiting publication, such as “Furnace”. His articles, humorous and serious, are popping up everywhere, especially in his column at scifantastic. Currently, he is working on a mainstream novel and promises a mystery. He enjoys talking to writers, novice or professional, and encourages contact.
(c) 2004 William Alan Rieser wrieser@sbcglobal.net
Website: http://rieserbooks.homestead.com/rieserbooks.html

About the Artist: Romeo Esparrago, who is an alien, an artist, and an efficiency expert, uses his tentacles as paintbrushes.
(c) 2004 Romeo Esparrago http://www.romedome.com

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