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Mission Report

by Verrath

File-ID T2943/845-XG, Department for Alien Studies


Allow me to introduce myself. I am V870-S19P70, and I am a researcher of alien cultures by profession. My most recent assignment has taken me to a world that has been neglected by our officials for so very long that the fact that intelligent life has developed there came as no small surprise. They call their world "Earth", though we refer to it as Terra-2943 in our catalogs.

Day 1

I need to find a way to infiltrate their society without anyone noticing. Somehow, I must find a disguise that will allow me to get close to them without giving myself away. It occurs to me that it might be unwise to masquerade as one of them, since I am as yet extremely unfamiliar with their ways and would no doubt attract much unwanted attention. I have found that they make use of many lesser intelligent species for transport, food, and other tasks. One of those they call 'horse'. The creature looks handsome enough, and is fairly close in appearance to what we look like in our natural form, so I have decided to be a 'horse'. They do not seem to be very bright, so I can just act dumb and nobody will notice me. At least, that is what I hope.

Day 2

Such Luck! I have set myself up wandering aimlessly around the countryside. I have not had to wait long before a tall terrestrial of the intelligent species - I will refer to them as Species A1 in my scientific report - came by and chose me for transportation. I am all set! Now I can start gathering information on the typical inhabitant of Terra-2943.

Day 3

It appears my specimen is female, judging from my limited knowledge of their reproductive system. One thing I was able to ascertain is that they do NOT reproduce by spores, for there is no evidence of incubator pouches anywhere on her body. I am intrigued. Will have to delve into this.

Day 4

She has been using the word "Argo" several times now when addressing me. I think she means for it to be my name. It has taken me a while to figure out how she uses her legs and weight and that weird thing she has made me put into my mouth to guide my movements, but the system seems easy enough. She appears pleased at the way I respond to her silent commands. I could almost develop a certain fondness for this specimen.

Day 5

Been traveling all day. Apparently these beings live in packs, and she seems to be the leader of one. I am confused as to my earlier assumption that my specimen is female. It seems to be the only one of its gender in the whole herd, so maybe for now I should assume it's a male, if their system resembles ours in any way. After all, what sense does it make for a herd of any kind to have only one offspring-carrying individual, and hundreds of inseminators?

They call him 'Xena'.

There are no incubator pouches on the other members of the herd, either. The containers they carry about them do not seem to be designed to breed offspring. I cannot wait to learn more.

Day 6

It seems they communicate by sound and gestures alone. No trace of mind-to-mind communication. Their language is a collection of harsh, guttural noises that would probably blast my ears were I in my natural form. Though they do have rudimentary intelligence, I guess they have a long way to go yet towards civilization.

One thing that has me puzzled is their metabolism. How do they maintain their energy level? It probably has to do with the quantities of material they imbibe through the mouth. What I wouldn't give for a peek inside to see how they are made up!

Day 7

I must be careful what I wish for, for it has come true today. And I believe I have come quite close to losing my own life. It is one thing to cleanly prepare and sterilize a specimen and then dissect it, but quite another to see the sort of carnage these beings wreak upon one another. They had a fight today - perhaps two rivaling herds, I can't be sure, and now dead ones are lying around in all stages of dismemberment.

They don't smell very good.

Will sneak away tonight to get a closer look.

Day 8

I have been able to get away unnoticed, but the time I had was not nearly enough. My closer examination of the bodies brought up more questions than it answered. I will lay down my findings in a separate, detailed report. Suffice it to say that their insides smell extremely unpleasant, and that they seem to contain several types of body fluids, the function of which I have yet to fathom.

Day 13

I have not been able to make entries in my report, as the last few days have been more than hectic. I can't say I understood half of what was going on, but it seems the herd undertook some sort of ritual that left my terrestrial an outcast. He is now traveling by himself, with me for his only companion. He talks to me quite a bit when none of his kind are within hearing. I have got to start learning their language, much as it offends my sensitive hearing.

Day 15

There has been much fighting these past few days. Maybe my male is trying to get his pack back, I don't know. The funny thing is, his place as a leader seems to have been taken over by a female. There is no evidence of other males in the band now. I am confused.

He seems downcast today, for some reason. I wish I could understand his speech. The Lord help me, I almost find myself wishing I could give myself away and speak to him, to offer some comfort. I'm afraid I may be getting too involved.

Day 16

'Xena' has taken me near a riverbank and dismounted. He has disappeared among the bushes. I strain to see what he's doing without actually seeming to, but he is out of my line of sight. This is maddening.

I can hear a commotion, that strange ululating yell Xena seems to be rather fond of, and the clang of metal and wood. I wish I could see!

When he returns to me, there is a new look of resolve on his face as he mounts me and guides me forward at a brisk trot.

Day 27

I regret having been so lax with my journal. Things have definitely become interesting around my terrestrial, and I have had little time to write. To be perfectly honest, I have been too captivated by what has been happening, and believe it or not, I have forgotten all about this journal. Yesterday I updated the scientific report with the newest findings on Terrestrial behavior. Still no clue as to how they reproduce...

But I digress.

There was a scary incident with a huge, one-eyed monster, just after my last entry. I am ashamed to say I acted rather cowardly when I sensed the brute, and it took Xena's soothing voice to calm me down and get me to walk on.

Xena has a companion now. A shorter specimen, of the same gender, but with a lighter complexion. The creature had been following us since that day at the river.

Xena treats him gruffly but I catch him looking thoughtful when the other one isn't there to see. I wish they were different genders so I could watch them reproduce.

The new one talks a lot.

From what I gather, he is called Gabrielle.

Day 37

Okay, things are way too hectic around here for me to be able to update my notes more frequently, so I've decided to try for an update every ten days or so. Although, it has been difficult to sneak off to some secluded spot so I can shapechange - there is just no way I can write while wearing these ungainly things called hooves that horses walk on!

While Xena certainly is good about not hobbling me or tying me up for the night - I hear Species A1 - they call themselves 'humans' - do that to horses so they don't run away - he still keeps a wary eye on me and tends to come looking if I stay out of his sight for too long.

The other one - Gabrielle - doesn't trust me. He keeps his distance most of the time, and only under the most dire circumstances will he agree to ride on me behind Xena. I fear he suspects my true nature. If this suspicion is confirmed, I may have to dispose of him. Secrecy is top priority. And yet, while I am hardly as fond of him as I am of Xena, I would regret having to take that measure. He seems kind and gentle, and compassionate, for a human.

Day 49

Oh, my! I am so embarrassed. It turns out that my first assumption about gender was correct after all. I have been traveling with two females. From now on, I shall use the correct form when I talk about them.

We are in a big inhabited area, I think they call it 'Athens'. They have put me into a roofed enclosure called 'stable', and seem to have forgotten about me for the time being, except for a brief visit from Xena at about the same time each day, and some individual passing by every morning to 'muck out' and feed me and the horses that are in the other stalls.

Horses ingest dried plants.

Horses aren't any good for conversation.

I have been able to glean a few things about their nature, though. It will help me deal with my humans better.

But, more importantly, this new situation gives me a chance to sneak out often and shapechange and mix among the population. I have assimilated quite a bit of their language, and even managed to sneak into a place they call a 'library' several times. This 'library' is a place where they store information in what they call 'scrolls'. I have seen Gabrielle use them from time to time, and I'm finally beginning to understand what he - what she is doing.

However, I must say the procedure is rather primitive. Our own distant ancestors are rumored to have used this technique of smearing a black liquid onto a dried mash of ground plant fibers, forming strange markings of distinct shapes to represent speech, but I have yet to find evidence of that on my own planet.

But, being this primitive, it has not been too much of a challenge, once I had enough time, to decipher these codings. This is a treasury! I can hardly describe my excitement at delving into the secrets this peculiar world holds.

I started on the biology section today.

One curious thing about the biology of most species that live here - they ingest and imbibe material (as I surmised earlier) in order to maintain their energy level. What has me puzzled is the amount of material they discard from their bodies every day (and the smell, too). Why not use this for energy as well? It would minimize the effort they go through day in day out to obtain suitable material to 'eat' - which they use to describe ingesting solids - and 'drink' - which is for fluids.

But perhaps this elimination process has a reason - maybe they pass obscure messages by the smell, since they so sadly lack mental communication.

A strange world.

Tomorrow I will continue on this section - maybe I'll finally learn about their reproduction procedure.

Day 49, supplemental

Adapted my own apparent gender to match Xena's and Gabrielle's. Maybe nobody will notice.

Day 54

Finding out how they reproduce turns out to be a little more difficult than I had anticipated, as the two humans tend to keep to themselves. Whenever we do meet males, there is usually a fight. I assume this is a territorial thing, although I have yet to figure out how they determine their territory. Xena and Gabrielle are always on the move; maybe they have not conquered a space yet? It is very confusing. They do seem to be winning every last fight, but always, they move on. Maybe the land is not to their liking after all. Or maybe they don't like the males that live there, who seem a lot hairier and more buff than the females in general. Most, however, don't stand a chance when Xena does battle with them. I have come to the conclusion that in this culture, the female is the strong species.

So, I will have to be more patient. Maybe some day I will be confident enough to take the shape of a human male and find out for myself, but for now, I am growing fond of being "Argo". It is hard to describe the intense pleasure of being groomed and pampered after a long day of travel. It even compensates for the rough oats and grains they expect me to ingest.

Day 56

Yesterday was a very strange day.

I can see the need for these rather primitive organisms to 'drink' a lot, since the nature of their elimination processes causes them a disproportionate loss of fluids. Also, their strange tendency to excrete fluid through their skin in times of heat or exertion accounts for the need to replenish liquids. What has me baffled, however, is the strange way they sometimes behave after imbibing larger quantities.

The incident in question is one of too many to mention, but it should serve as a striking example of the ramifications of human behavior. This took place yesterday, after arriving in a medium-sized conglomeration of dwellings - called a 'town' - just before dark.

After they had installed me in one of those stables, they both entered what they call a tavern, a place where humans gather for some type of obscure social behavior. I was fortunate, because this stable was a neat one. It had a window into the place where the humans sat, presumably so the animals stabled here could make sure their humans were okay. Thus I could watch first hand, without having to change my guise. I had tried entering one of those places before, but my abilities to convincingly mimick a human are hampered by my difficulty to produce their guttural speech, and by a general lack of knowledge as to what their customs are.

What I saw was very confusing. There were mostly males in there, but after some time I could see Gabrielle stepping up to the center of the room taking some flashy stance that I assumed was a sort of mating behavior, at least by the way some of the males suddenly perked up.

But, come to think of it, I believe the females showed a similar reaction, so maybe I was wrong.

In the meantime, Xena had settled down with her back against the wall, in a place where she could easily see all the humans inside, as well as catch my reassuring glances every now and then. She looked utterly oblivious to the goings-on, but I was not fooled, of course, having known her for some time. It is a game she likes to play, and she often catches me unawares with it, I admit. She has a great sense of humor, this human.

While almost every single human's attention was riveted on Gabrielle, who was waving her arms and speaking in a strong voice, although not quite loud enough to carry through the window pane that separated the stable from the tavern, Xena slowly but steadily emptied one vessel filled with some foaming, dark liquid after another, until I started to wonder just how much fluid these organisms have to imbibe in order to function.

Looking at other humans, I could see that quite a few were 'drinking' just as intensively, absently draining vessel after vessel, as they watched Gabrielle perform.

It was quite interesting to watch those humans' features gradually look more and more relaxed, some were grinning vacantly, heads were slowly dropping onto tabletops, as the evening wore on. A few were changing in a different way; one wore an agressive scowl and kept glancing repeatedly back and forth between Xena and Gabrielle. Xena was suffering some peculiar affliction, going cross-eyed repeatedly, fingering her leather garment, breaking out in giggles for no apparent reason. Giggles! I have seen this expression of extreme mirth manifest often in Gabrielle, but never in Xena. This was increasingly puzzling.

It occurred to me then that this strange phenomenon must be somehow linked to the liquid in those vessels. Maybe there was some form of germ in there that made humans ill. I was suddenly wary of the scene before me. I hoped my knowledge of their anatomy would be sufficient to treat them, in case this obviously highly infectious condition was truly life-threatening. I know, a few of you will probably consider me a weakling for wanting to preserve them, but I admit to having grown very attached to their antics.

Xena seemed very much at ease, though, but only until one of the men who had been scowling jumped up and spoke in a thunderous tone. The grin vanished from Xena's face as she got to her feet, Gabrielle fell silent, in fact, the whole room was suddenly deathly still.

With a howl, the man launched himself at Xena - would I get to see a mating at last? But no, he looked more like an attacker, really. Xena, however, was grinning again. She seemed a little unsteady as she sidestepped his clumsy charge, and I saw her wrist flick casually. The next instant, the attacker was picking himself up awkwardly off the floor, grabbing at leg garments that had somehow come loose and tripped him by falling around his ankles.

Xena chuckled. Minutes later, the place was like a madhouse, with people cackling and guffawing, pointing at the man whose face was turning a very remarkable shade of red. He huffed something, and stalked out of the room.

It got stranger from there, people mingled, and I lost sight of my two humans for minutes on end. Once I saw Xena on all fours on the ground, and Gabrielle climbing up on a table with a young male, holding each other's hands and whiring around until the table fell down with a crash that scared me so much that I forgot myself enough to actually whinny like a true horse! I wondered, had I finally witnessed a human mating there?

They seemed unhurt by the fall, and a little while later, Gabrielle was doing as she'd done before, only this time it was Xena she held on to, much closer than she had to the male. So maybe this was not mating after all.

They are such friends now, it's heartwarming.

I had no chance to examine their condition before one of the humans made an announcement that seemed to wipe the vapid grins off most faces. By one, or in pairs and even threes, holding on to each other to keep from falling, they staggered dizzily out of the room, some by the door that lead out onto the street, others, like Xena and Gabrielle, by a set of stairs that apparently lead to the second story of the building, where I could not continue to watch them. You can imagine my anxiety at not being able to monitor their condition. Especially when later, I heard strange noises from where they must be staying, moans and groans and even one high-pitched scream. These started up a good while after they had disappeared from view, and lasted the better part of the night. I did try to spy on them, but the curtains were drawn and the door on squeaky hinges, so I dared not enter their room for fear of alerting them to what I am. I just hoped they were all right. Their condition was alarming, to say the least.

Just as I was getting ready to break into their room no matter the consequences - it was now bright daylight outside - I saw Xena walk slowly down the stairs, one hand resting on her forehead. The relief! She looked very pale, her eyes puffy, but she seemed almost back to normal otherwise. She picked up a pitcher of what must be water, and carried it back upstairs. A good while later, to my joy, both Xena and Gabrielle made their way unsteadily down the stairs.

I could not help it; I whinnied a greeting. Both of them flinched at the sound and shot me identical angry glares, which I still do not quite understand. Gabrielle usually rolls her eyes prettily, while Xena smiles fondly whenever I do that, unless she has given me the silence-command, which she only does when we are in hiding out on the road.

As you see, yesterday evening certainly raised a lot more questions than it answered. I wonder if Xena will let me have some of that dark, foaming stuff. So I can analyze it, of course.


Author's Note: ... it might be continued, but then again, it might not. I'd say it stands completed for as long as I don't work on it :-)

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