So there I am, cruising over the cloud layer of this fogswamp moon out in the backwaters in Cygnus Beta, rolling lazily to dodge the mountains and keeping one eye on the ultrasound in case there's something worth hooking under there, when one of the mountains opens its eye and starts glaring at me.

Now I've been doodling around on this planet in my jet for a couple weeks now, classifying the organisms and recording the geography for EX. The area I was in was an ocean of ammonia with about five hundred metres of thick fog on top. There are some pretty big floatwhales on the same planet that I'd already ran into, so I knew there'd be other big things, but when this eye opens, it's like, holy mother of Borg, I've seen some megafauna in my time but this thing takes the serious biscuit. The part of its skull that I can see - the tall, pointy mountain with a big plate eye on each side - is four klicks tall. Sensors start taking details and logging them and transmitting them, but I'm not watching the sensors, I'm looking into its eye. One vast pupil and three subsidiary pupils any of which I could easily park my ship in, just swivel around and stare at me as I drift past it. And I get the distinct impression that it's thinking. I mean, if it's that big, its brain can't be the size of a walnut. I'm not about to try to hook it, hell no.

Now. I enjoy fishing, anything that ranks less than 1/10th of a standard human on the UCCI, all perfectly legal. And size doesn't bother me. Actually I think I've got something like the seventh longest harpoon in known space bolted to the underside of my main craft. Solid barbed diamondoid, fifteen metres long, on a line that could tether a GSV. I'd show you it but I gotta keep it stored. Flippin' court case. So yeah, the biggest thing I ever landed wasn't much smarter than a bacterium - big lump of rubbery jelly, floating in the upper layers of some gas giant. That thing was a kilometre long. Parking it when I got back to port was a- where was I? Oh yeah, my point was that you'd need a harpoon the size of the Space Needle to kill this thing.

Then as I pass in front of its - well, the front part of its head, I never spotted a nose - and begin putting some distance between us, this big fat snake rises up out of the gas clouds way in front of me. Except it's not a snake, it's part of the same creature. It's one of its tentacles. One of its thirteen-kilometre-long tentacles. And it grabs the ship and pulls it back as if me setting the engines at maximum thrust was like a fly trying to buzz its way out of cupped hands. And it pulls the ship down and under the ammonia, and eats it, with me inside.

As the ship slides helplessly down its gullet, splash-lands eventually in a lake of digestive juices and begins to dissolving underneath me, I start to think that I might be in a bit of a pickle.

Killing it - even if I could - would be no use. I'd go from being trapped in a bellyful of acid to being trapped in a corpse's bellyful of acid. So how did I escape? Well, I needed to persuade it to spit me out again, but how did I do that? What's the number one thing I've always taught you, son? The one thing you never ever go anywhere without?

Well done.

A travelling noder is never far from guidance. I pulled out my EX portal and dug out some information that might be useful. Stupidly, nobody had yet written anything on being swallowed whole, What to when you find yourself dissolving in the stomach acids of a creature the size of a country or anything like that - they were nodeshells - but I did find lots of useful things, like Taxonomy and classification of newly-discovered species, Improvising (always useful), Universal Cognitive Capability Index classification, and the ship ran a cross-reference on the thing's physiology and scanned for possible known weaknesses of other species that might carry over. Evidence suggested there was a good possibility the thing was sentient, and there was a low-pitched rumbling constantly echoing through the stomach so I kicked the entire submitted codebase from Picking up a new language by ear into primary on the computer as I kept reading, even though it needed at least two hours' material to be coherent and my ship was going to be a blob of assorted chlorides and trace elements in a matter of minutes.

Fortunately, at that point the questor I'd loaded into the Catbox channels asking for help finally came back with a few responses. And suddenly I found out why the shape of this creature had been ringing faint bells since I saw it. People out there have seen it before. It was the terror of an entire solar system before it was beaten back, captured, and sentenced to exile here, on the edge of known space. Its shape, its motives, and even its language were well known to the stored consciousnesses of the four or five noders who had survived from those early days, and they knew exactly what I could do to escape.

After I spent a good minute and a half writing a nasty /msg to the eXgeneers usergroup, I was on my way.

I simply broadcasted "I'll vote for you" as loudly as possible in Giant Squid.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.