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Fiction: 'Sketches by Zob' by Osgood Vance

Fire - cover by Gary NorthfieldBeing the first in a series of prioritised communications delivered to the Archscout of Eta Carinae by the Fleshscout Zobtomulster, second degree Fleischbassador and Underscout First Grade.

[Begin communication]

Exalted One!

Thisform is gleeful to report that manifestation has occurred! Please attend to the fleshtransport team with all alacrity and express to them of my sincere joy.

Thisform is delighted by the opportunity to achieve its first underscouting mission. Primary goalfunction, as is sworn in underscout academy, to investigate for life of ourform’s intellectual parity and probity. If such life exists, our goalfunction is to make treaty or trade, as appropriate. Secondarily, if no lifeforms such impress themselves upon us as of parity intelligence – and, bewoes to our noble purposement, they so disfortunately ever do – ourform’s moral responsibility is to glean what resources we may from each worldshape and return them safely to Eta Carinae for preservation and repurposing into luxurious packaged goods.

As the Archscout nodoubtless sages, Orb Three-Primary of system Orange-Gentry has recently become available for underscouting opportunities. The Solar Preservation Acts of the recent cosmic parliaments allow access only to the outermost 70% of planets, with the innermost 30% to be retained unscouted for cultural preservation and potential use as solar wind farms. Recent reclassification exercises of Orange-Gentry have downgraded the outermost orb to sub-planet status, conveniencing scouting access to Three-Primary, now happylocated at 37.5%. Given ourform’s joybountiful harvesting of Four-Primary in eontimespast, thisform has high expectations.

With example of that glorious occasion firmly wedged in mindspace, thisform launched through thinkmogrification and arrived on threeprimary “yesterday morning”. (Thisform studiously presaged temporal relationships into thisform’s mindspace before thinkmogrification, which explains thisform’s deftness with Three-Primaries’ nonsensical chronometric units. Exalted Archscout, would yourform believe that three-primarians utilise a icosikaitetragonal horological system? Will holdthought while you brainmuse.)

Attending to yesterday morning. As thisform’s diligent presaging had unveiled, the dominant lifeform on three-primary was a biped with extremely rudimentary thinkvelopment (Icosikaitetragonal! Hilarity!). Still, as the three-primarians had evidenced at least two of the sixteen standards of civilisation, phys-scouting and therefore thinkmogrification was mandated for closespection. Suchly was the manifestation thisform emulated upon arrival.

After underscouting completes, thisform will thinkshare many images of thisform as flabby proto-furred biped with miniscule incisors and single alimentary canal. Sacrifice of thisform will be much appreciplauded by underscout sound-tentacles. Many stiff drinkules are earned by suchsuffering undercounts!

Flesh-transformation was achieved in a sizable florid space. The only local form to witness manifestation was a quadraped gaining energy from the local herbivorous population. The quadraped’s phlemegatic calmface indicated that it had seen manifestation many times before, only makesensible given program of quadruped investisection during prescouting proces. Thisform apologised for interrupting the quadraped’s meal and the quadraped responded with a greeting of joyous defecation.

Interstellar etiquette observed, thisform left the quadruped to its personal gleaning procedure.

It was a short shift on thisform’s new vehicular appendages before a fabricated domicile came to view. It was barely the volume of a small interplanetary shuttle but the recent application of lead-based decorative layers evidenced ongoing enpopulation. Girded with presaged biped language, thisform addressed the domicile’s portal. Pounding with upper appendage six times, thisform declared presence with great volume: “Zob is at your domicile. Converse intelligently or be gleaned, bipeds.”

Resaging presaged languaging, thisform quickly added, “Lawsy. Apples and pears.”

Ungleefully, presaging biped language had not informed thisform of the need for local costume, and upon opening the portal, the resident three-primarian biped, a form of female gender, vocalised an extremely disconcerting noise. Thisform quickly presaged that the biped’s discomfort stemmed from its awe at perceiving all thisform’s of appendages - many unveiled, two being used for mobility and a third for balance.

Thisform hastily bedecked thisformself in a conveniently-placed bipedal fabric-shroud (awkwardmuch as it was still wetsoaked from being recently dunked in fluid - perhaps as marination?). With thisform’s appendages damply concealed, the biped ceased to keen and began a mechanic cool-off process as its face-cheeks were red like local fruit (and/or Gamma Crucis).

Thisform saw this as a vocalisation opportunity. “Apologies and felicitations, local biped. Zob has come on journey and forgot local custom. Duckies.”

The biped continued to gape. Thisform prompted it kindly and according to manual, “Can your current form vocalise in its current physical state? Shall thisform return when yourform is bettertended?” The biped, clearly on a delayed run-cycle, let out a new series of noises that thiform recognised as emergency registers, seemingly callprompting for a “Barkis” to attend to its presence. Thisform interpreted the Barkis as the bipedal owner or hierarch, and resided patiently until the Barkis arrived.

A Barkis, thisform learned, is a maleform biped face-foliage. It was also wheezing, but whether this was an endemic respiratory problem, a form of greeting or the result of the occasion’s swiftmovement, this form is unaware.

“Lookie here, Barkis,” vocalised the original biped, “a foreigner! And when I saw him, well.…” The female biped reconsidered the merits of discussing thisform’s unveiled figure. “…’e’s very foreign indeed. Very.”

Thisform made etiquette movements in the direction of the Barkisform and reintroduced presence. “Barkis, thisform is Zob. Zob has come on long movement to vocalise to local hierarchs. Pies.”

“Oo. I don’t much know about this one, Peg, but he do seem a bit foreign,” the Barkis ruminated. “‘E seems ‘armless though. Go on then. Where d’you hail from, Zob?”

Beneficially, thisform had presaged an answer to that very interrogation. “Canada,” thisform responded, having chosen that demenses for the express reason of its apparent nonexistence. “Zob is from Canada.” Then, hurriedly, “Bollocks.”

“Cor. ‘e’s got a gob on him, ain’t he? Makes sense for a sailor! Well, Peggoty, supposin’ we give him one of these pies and then ‘e’ll git off on the London road and begone. Don’t need no sailors messin’ about ‘round ‘ere, do we?”

Thisform assumed final interrogative was directed to presence. “Yes!” Thisform affirmed, exhausted by the strenuousness of the thinkmogrification and ensuing appendage-based travel. “Take Zob to hierarch!”

“Ooo,” the Peggoty one bleated, “‘e can’t just barge in ‘ere, demandin’ pies and hairbrushes! Swearin’ and yellin’ and… [the Peggotty again reconsidered vocalising thisform’s netherpendages] … carryin’ on and such. ‘e’s even wearing’ Master David’s blanket! Stole it right off the line!”

The Barkis vocalised enragement at this final fact. “Not Master David’s blanket! That’s too good for the likes of a dirty Canadian swabbie! What would yer brother and his family – all fine fisherman – think of a man o’ the sea actin’ in this manner. ‘orrible Peggoty! Right ‘orrible! I should’ve seen it on ‘im from a thousand feet, Peggoty. ‘isgraceful and ‘oriole to watch ‘im standin’ there, draped in a lovely blanket o’ Master David’s!”

Matters had clearly escalated out of appendage, and worsethought, thisform was obvisibily discarding time unthinkly and not with hierarchs! The Barkis and the Peggoty were merely biped resources of the hierarch “Master David” and no vocalisation of truemeaning would happencur with their limited thinkviews. The “London” the bipeds had voicedumped was clearly the residence of beings of greater substance – thisform had thinkmogrified in the demesnes of underlings! Thisform immediately consumed both bipeds for energy and began mobilising with great hastefulidity.

Exalted one, thisform cannot hideceal concern at the scope of the scouttask ahead, but has bravevowed to onplunge. Further communications will bulletin on the “tomorrow”.

[End communication]

Osgood Vance lives in New Orleans with his prize-winning collection of stuffed nutria. His short fiction can be found in A Town Called Pandemonium (Jurassic London) and Bronies (Kazka Press). 

"Sketches by Zob" first appeared in Fire (2012), a short collection of very short stories inspired by the work of Charles Dickens. (Amazon UK / Amazon US / Goodreads).

Image credit: Gary Northfield.