"Will you walk a little faster?" Said a Whiting to a Snail, "There's a porpoise close behind us and it's treading on my tail."
'A Whiting and A Snail' from 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' Lewis Carroll (C.L. Dodgson)
"Now this is odd," Sith said, looking up from a star chart on the monitor, "This planets location has not been previously recorded. Granted, this is a less traveled arm of the galaxy, but still..."
Said planet, which the Sunflower was orbiting, presented a verdant face to Rae and her team with uncounted kilometers of forest, meadows and large bodies of water that were crystalline blue; quite inviting in aspect.
"I'm not detecting any signs of higher life forms," Jan said. "The atmosphere contains an abundance of oxygen so we won't need suits."
The team was searching for a fugitive named Piegelath Tilsterhn, a lawbreaker of considerable villainy in the Altair system who had escaped from the Correctional Satellite where he was imprisoned. The faint trail of his stolen jump ships' ion Drive had led them to this previously uncharted planet.
"The ion traces end here," Sith continued. "He's not in orbit so he must be down there somewhere."
Daisy, the ship computer, activated the landing controls as Rae and the others took their weapons from a locker. Once the Sunflower had settled in a clearing near a sparkling lake, Pallas emerged from his hatch to search for potential dangers and found none. With that, the others emerged into the rich and breathable atmosphere and looked about them.
"What a beautiful planet," Rae said, buckling on her twin Positron pistols. "It's unfortunate there's no intelligent life here to appreciate it."
"There is a scent of ozone in the air," Sith said, his nose twitching.
"That would explain these high levels of electromagnetic radiation," Jan replied, consulting her wrist mounted detectors. "Something's generating it in rapid pulses, yet there's nothing around except water and trees."
"Those are peculiar bird calls," Sith continued, ears tilting to catch the sounds. "Bursts of high pitched twittering; it may be a form of communication."
"I can't hear anything," Rae said. "Those calls are in a higher frequency than we can detect."
Pallas came floating out of the woods, his spherical body flashing through the color spectrum indicating excitement.
"I've found a city."
"I saw no constructs anywhere," Sith replied. "What sort of city?"
"Not a city as we know it, but an extensive complex of structures and tunnels integrated into the trees, soil and rock. It's entirely too precise to be a natural phenomenon; something intelligent has created it."
"Did you see anyone?" Jan said.
"Not a soul, however I did detect continual bursts of electromagnetic radiation and unusually high pitched sounds as I neared."
"Let's check this place out," Rae said. "First these weird occurrences, then a city with no inhabitants, my curiosity's up."
They followed Pallas through the forest, glimpsing small animals darting about on the ground and in the trees, they seemed to fly rather than run and it was difficult to see them clearly.
"Their metabolic rate must be off the scale," Jan said. "How can they find and ingest enough food to maintain such a pace?"
"Maybe they run on sunlight," Rae quipped, wiping her brow.
The city was indeed unusual; a combination of styles resembling Navajo cliff dwellings on Old Earth, crenellated and turreted castles on the Rhine and Danube and seaside condominiums on a hundred planets; all in two-thirds humanoid scale. It appeared to be barren of life.
"Where are the inhabitants?" Jan wondered. "It doesn't look abandoned."
"They must be rather small, whoever they are," Sith said, looking in a window. "This must be a dwelling of sorts. There's what I presume to be furniture in here and it's clean and tidy."
"The radiation detectors going off the scale," Rae said. "It's not lethal, but there are incredibly high concentrations of electromagnetic wave pulses."
"There's that twittering again," Sith said. "It's increasing in volume from numerous sources."
"The cities inhabitants are all around us," Pallas announced. "They are curious but not afraid. Be still and let them examine you. They mean no harm."
Rae and Jan stood silently as their clothing rustled and their skin prickled from delicate touches like summer breezes.
Sith's fur was ruffled and occasionally stood on end as his ears and tail twitched from the feather light touches.
"What sort of beings are they, Pallas?" Rae said, "Why can't we see them?"
"Their metabolism is such that they oscillate out of the visible spectrum," Pallas replied. "You are but living statues to them. They are bewildered that you can exist in such a state and yet be sentient beings."
"How can you hear what they're saying?" Jan asked.
"I have adjusted my communication chips to their frequency," Pallas said. "They ask you to wait until the sun nears the horizon when their metabolic rate slows and they become visible. They are nourished by solar radiation and rest when the night comes."
"I'll go back to the ship and get some food and drink from the replicator," Jan said. "We'll have a picnic."
The dying rays of the setting sun peeped through the tree fronds as the trio finished their repast, giving the still invisible beings something else to wonder over. Finally, as it turned dusk, they began to become visible.
None were over 82cm tall, some only 66cm, their bodies were humanoid and slim, with four limbs and cilia where fingers and toes would be. Their features were sharp, with large round eyes, a diminutive nose and mouth, broad and pointed ears and cilia on their heads instead of hair. They vibrated slightly, even at rest, but became more relaxed as night fell.
They wore no garments, their skins were pale blue and subtle differences in their shapes and heights distinguished the males from the females. They clustered around Rae, Jan and Sith, but ignored Pallas since he was not 'alive'.
Finally one of their numbers, a male, whirled forward and said in a piping voice "We are the Flasolus, I am called Tassa. I welcome you to our city. From where do you come?"
"You speak Universal?" Rae said, astonished.
"I can fhess it in your mind," was the reply. "It makes communication much easier."
"You can read our thoughts, then?" Rae asked.
"I am not sure what you mean," Tassa replied. "We speak with all living things."
"Quite possibly a highly developed intuitive sense of our speech patterns," Sith mused, "Although it may well be a rudimentary form of telepathy."
"We come from several planets in the galaxy," Jan said. "We have journeyed far in search of another traveler who we believe has landed on your planet. Have you by chance seen him?"
"The fessmesh speaks of a being arriving several fhans from here fwitt sun cycles ago in a craft such as yours," piped a female whirring next to Tassa. "The people there have approached in welcome, but were driven away by rays of heat. He remains there in his craft, alone."
She vibrated prettily, and then said "My name is Malla, We can take you to the place when you wish."
"First you must join us before the Time of Resting arrives," Tassa said. "We have many questions if you care to answer them."
"Piegelath isn't going anywhere," Rae said. "We'll collect him later. Ask away all of you."
The questions flew thick and fast, piping voices all but drowning each other out until one by one they entered their dwellings and were instantly quiescent; the four returned to their ship.
When the sun rose Rae and the others returned to the city. It no longer seemed deserted as they could now discern shimmers in the air as the beings sped about in their imperceptible lives.
Rae felt a tickle on her right ear. "Do you wish to see the being?" said a voice.
Now her left ear tickled. "It will be quite slow traveling with you," said another voice. "We could go much faster in your ship."
"Tassa? Malla?" Rae asked, receiving chiming twitters in return. "Let us go then."
"I feel as a Rhunnbeast in a mud wallow next to these beings," Sith grumbled to Jan as they walked back to the ship.
"We are cold treacle to their water," Jan replied. "They are truly fascinating."
"At least they acknowledge you," Pallas put in. "I am like the Sunflowers' hull plating to them. I can understand their speech, but I cannot communicate."
"Their minds are radically different from ours," Jan said. "Your form of mental communication isn't registering."
"I will fabricate an auditory device," the sphere replied. "That may help."