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Konban: Conflict and Empire
Author: Stephen W Bennett


 

Chapter 1: Between a Rock and a Hard Place!

 

 

“Kuttlefish!”

Mirikami had been describing the disastrous Kobani physical vulnerability to an unfamiliar Thandol weapon, speaking to gathered alien and Kobani scientists. He abruptly stopped when he heard that sudden utterance, and looked at his two friends who had spoken that joint exclamation, Vince Naguma and Sarah Bradley.

He was telling the assembly about the painful effects of the Thandol Debilitater radiation weapon on living creatures in general, but which had proven fatal for the Kobani from even mild exposures. That nerve-jangling, pain-inducing weapon could potentially wipe out all higher life on Koban, due to their superconducting nervous systems.

He knew Vince and Sarah had switched to researching Koban sea life a few years ago, after the formerly empty minded Krall meat-animals, the devolved Raspani, were moved to Haven. The two scientists had given up being Raspani caretakers on Koban, when the newly restored Raspani wanted to perform that task themselves, on the neighboring lighter gravity planet, where they inserted mind enhancers and restored personalities into the mindless ones.

When the researchers simultaneously, and apparently spontaneously, blurted the word kuttlefish, it caused a moment of confusion for him and the others in the room.

“Vince, Sarah, what did you two just say? Did you think of something that relates to our problem?”

Vince spoke first, after a rapid Comtap exchange with his wife. “We’re not entirely sure, Tet. But Sarah and I have been studying Koban sea animals, and one is an Earth-like cuttlefish analogue, which we found living along the coast near Hub City. They’re preyed upon by many different predatory fish. The Koban kuttlefish, as we named them, didn’t appear to have much in the way of natural defenses, such as a hard shell, toxic flesh, or a venomous bite to ward attackers off. They do use a fast color changing camouflage, as do the smaller Earth equivalent animals we named them after. However, they don’t even produce ink to squirt, for distracting a predator as they flee to some underwater burrow or coral outcrop. These soft bodied, six-tentacled creatures don’t seem to use burrows as hiding places from which to forage, except when the female is brooding eggs. To remain in the open, at least as much as they do, appeared to be a risky survival strategy to us. So we investigated.”

Mirikami nodded, still not understanding the apparent sidetrack they had caused from the main discussion. However, he respected their intelligence, and assumed they had a pertinent point to make. He made a guess at what that point was, to hurry the discussion.

“I saw a pair of small kuttlefish in the big aquarium tank you set up in the Grand Hall of Hub City dome. Is it their impressive camouflage capability that you mean?” He assumed they were thinking of the animal’s ability to blend in and hide right out in the open, which to some extent might be a useful ability for a naked Kobani out of armor or clothing, but not against an electromagnetic broadcast of a wide beamed weapon, which didn’t care if the target was seen visually or not.

Sarah explained their completely different discovery in more detail. “It isn’t their visual concealment that really protects them Tet. It’s their defense from electrical detection systems by their predators, and most importantly, their protection from at least two species of electrical shock fish, which is what just triggered our idea as we listened to you. One predator is the large Boltfish we discovered, an eight to ten-foot-long beast at maturity, which delivers a shock of 800 to 1,100 volts, at nearly two amps to its prey, killing or stunning them. Another is the Battery eel that someone else discovered and named, which is actually a long slender six-foot fish. It too detects prey with rapid low voltage electrical pulses, and stuns them with a powerful shock when they’re found. Vince has done disections on the kuttlefish to find out how they survive the shocks; I’ll let him explain what we’ve found.”

Vince again picked up the explanation. “The kuttlefish is invisible to the electrical detection systems of these two predators, and perhaps to others not yet identified, and it’s totally immune to the shocks of these two. Furthermore, the Boltfish has long and nasty teeth, and our five-foot long, squishy, soft-bodied adult kuttlefish, seem nearly bite proof, suffering only superficial scratches, which heal quickly. The Battery eel has smaller pointy teeth, and all they do is barely scratch the surface skin.

We think that’s why the kuttlefish don’t bother to hide very much. Although, they can be swallowed completely by a Great Blue shark, and then they’re dead, of course. We’ve even seen two Boltfish that spotted one of them swimming, and combined in a joint attack to rip tentacles off, and eventually consume them. But one on one, they survive most attacks, that involve an electrical jolt, and it’s what’s under their skin that we think should be investigated.”

Mirikami sounded skeptical. “How so? It what way do you think that might help us with a defense against the Debilitater ray? I’ll admit, as a Spacer, I’ve stayed out of the rivers and seas on Koban, because everything in them seems ready to nibble my parts, or bite off my ass. I commend you two for your studies, although I’m afraid I haven’t paid any attention to your reports.”

Sarah grinned. “You’re a Spacer, as you said, and the reports weren’t intended for you to read. Until just now, we didn’t see any possible application for what we’ve learned. Now, however, there might be one.” She offered a challenge in the form of a question.

“Why have we only considered genes from Koban land or air animals for our own genetic enhancements?”

Mirikami shook his head. “I don’t follow you. Rafe and Aldry aren’t here from our genetics section, because we expected this to be a technological discussion of defense from enemy weapons, and of new offensive weapons of our own. They were invited of course, but both though they’d hear little that involved them. I’m pleased you came, but I don't know if we have the experts here we need to understand what you may have found.”

Vince scratched his head, but pressed on. “We will take this up with the genetics section, but Sarah and I have unanswered questions of our own about how what we found makes the kuttlefish immune to shocks to their nervous system, and how they manage to hide from the pulsed electrical detection systems of their predators. I think we need information from technicians or physicists. We might be onto something that we can use as a Debilitater defense, but we don't know enough to decide if it’s useful or not, or even practical.”

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