Story Idea: New Neighbors by John H Reiher

Mark BallWhen John Reiher won the Alien August competition with his alien profile of the Kutalii species, David and I remarked (on the SciFi Ideas Podcast) how easily the alien species could be used in a science fiction story.

John’s alien profile was so complete that it could be essentially ‘dragged and dropped’ into a story, and there was an enough interesting detail that stories could also be formed around the Kutalii’s unique society and culture. Eager to prove us right, John created this piece of prose, using the Kutalii as the protagonists.

New Neighbors

by John Reiher

The Herl Klex (Light Bringer) glided through space with ease. His radiators were unfurled and at right angles to Klex Ealth, the sun at the center of a 12 planetary system. The ship was made up of rounded end cylinders attached to a girderwork main strut. The small cylinders were habitation units; the much larger cylinders were for the ship’s reaction mass. It was headed to the gas giant Ca-Foth and the Clan Rea Yerdri orbital station, the home of the clan.

In the cargo containers attached to the main strut, was a load of essentials: nutrients, seeds, frozen embryos of small food animals, and databanks full of entertainments, new knowledge, and missives from relatives on Xenu Kootenai, the home world.


In the center of the habitation cylinders was the stormshelter, home to both the thinking machines that ran the ship and the Ship Mother, Ru Theld. Her offices were also the command center of the ship and she shared this habitat with her sister Devi Theld, First Sister of the ship, and her primary mate Sed Theld, the ship’s astrogator. The Herl Klex had a crew of forty Kutalii, thirteen females and twenty-seven males. At least a third of the crew were hatched on this ship, so it really was their home, not the mother planet.

Ru Theld floated in free fall in front of a reader. She was catching up on the market on Rea Yerdri station. Some of the cargo she had bought with her own notes, so she needed to show a good profit on this, and hopefully her notes will be worth more when returned.

Devi Theld was working on the next crew roster, currently the crew was not working at its best, and she decided that some of the younger sprats needed a guiding claw to keep them on the straight and narrow.

Sed Theld was running simulations on the thinking machine, working out a better orbital approach, using the least amount of remass for the return trip. Satisfied, he pulled his forearms against his chest and said, “If we stay an extra 8 sahrs at station, we could cut our remass usage by five percent. How does that equate with the docking fees?”

Devi Theld looked up, “We’d need to cut our speculative cargo profit by eight percent to cover the extra docking fees. But if we save five percent remass, we’d profit by six percent if the markets are trading well. Sister?”

The Ship Mother looked up and nodded, “We’d get a station note for the difference and that would pay our expenses to Ser Kab back on Xenu Kootenai with plenty to spare. Sounds like a plan Sed, Make it so!”

Sed turned to save the orbit he had plotted when wave of static swept over him from his far talker clips. “What was that?” Almost at the same time, that question was echoed by the rest of the crew, reporting in that they had felt a wave of noise sweep over them. Typically that was followed by checking one’s radiation counter, but it was not a solar flare sweeping over the ship.

As the sisters fielded the calls, Sed stuck his snout into the far looker and scanned the region. He saw and felt a series of electromagnetic waves sweep the area, centered on an object at their center. A hard, shiny object that the think machine claimed was not there earlier. “Ru, we have a ship about 3 light seconds away,” he said, and then followed up with it’s coordinates in the system.

Ru swung the large telescope to look in that direction. On the repeater plate, there was an image of white object, long and thin, with large wings that were glowing red. “It has his radiators out,” she said. “Whatever he had done, it generated a lot of heat that he’s trying to dump.”

Sed pulled his head out of the far looker. “That’s odd,” he said puzzled, “there’s odd noise coming from that ship. Listen.” He switched on the room talker. Odd noises played across their snouts and flanges.

“There’s a carrier wave and some strange modulation in that,” said Sed, “but it’s definitely artificial. I wonder…”

He fiddled with his controls and managed to clear up the noise to something sounding like speech. “Remember a couple of years ago, when Ker Yerni successfully encoded sounds through speech waves? This is the same thing. A sound encoded in to a frequency modulated speech wave.”

They listened… “This is the UNSS Mariner. We come in peace. We wish to make contact with you. If you can understand this, please reply.”

“Utter gibberish,” said Devi, “Is that supposed to be speech?”

“It’s alien speech sister,” said Ru, “of course it sounds like gibberish. So, what should we do now?” She looked at the other two and waited…

Mark BallFor more about the Kutalii, read John’s competition-winning alien profile.

If you have any thoughts on how John should continue this story, let us know in the comments below.

Written by John H. Reiher.

Artwork by Alexander Thümler (miNze).

  • Neat! I always imaged that a first contact scenario would begin with signals. Either lights blinking or radio bursts. Eventually, if there was enough commonality, the machines would do most of the work communicating. In this story a merchant ship might not be equipped to deal with it, but the new comers appear to be on that kind of mission. Of course, cybernetics might change that depending on if the thinking machines can network with the crew to increase their computation power.

    • John H Reiher Jr

      This story idea went through multiple revisions, including one where a “speculative narrative” fan is consulted on how best to contact the aliens.

      I figure that the UNSS Mariner will try human language contact first, just in case this is a human colony that’s off the book. If they get a reply that’s non-human, then they will go with prime numbers and simple math.

      I purposely left the occupants of the UNSS Mariner ambiguous, I’ll leave that up to whoever continues this story. Want to give this a try Todd? We could do a round-robin style story, each person does a bit, and then hands off to the next person.

      • I’ll chew on that offer for a bit. I’m more of the idea man than the word smith. I find it interesting that they would attempt human language first. The implication is that colonies have been lost and that there may have been a slow boat diaspora in Earth’s past. Additionally, are the Kutalli going to make the logical leap that the Mariner has FTL capability or are they going to ponder the possibility of some kind of cloaking device?

        • John H Reiher Jr

          All those are good reasons why they would try a human language first, Todd.

          As for the Kutalii, it’s up to them to make that leap. Or more correctly, whoever picks up the storyline and runs with it.

  • Paulo R. Mendes

    I love the Kutalli! and I would love to see them in some other media… like a game, for example.

    • John H Reiher Jr

      I would love to use them in a game. However, we’d have to make sure that the artist is adequately compensated. We’d need a model sheet for the Kutalii with different views and expressions. That way we could have multiple artists render this species in different activities.

      • Paulo R. Mendes

        I agree.