Spegg had asked me to stay back after the pods crashed into the Array. We had taken cover in the foothills and I remained as he went down into the valley to greet the LMOs and get them up to speed. He figured this would be the best way, considering the circumstances. Every one of the LMOs most likely suffered the same kind of disassociative identity disorder that Spegg had, and their immediate feelings toward any human would likely be… negative, to say the least. I didn’t argue the point.
From my vantage I had a good view of the massive pods. They were fairly similar in shape and size, but some were sleeker than others, four rows of venting instead of two, hard or soft angles, various shades of black and gray, and a single red pod lying in the twisted wreckage of dish twelve had a pair of narrow fins which swept along the ship’s edges like budding wings. Their impact craters were identical to Spegg’s original crash site, wide, deep bowls of densely packed ice slathered with that pinkish goop which absorbed the force of objects like nothing I’d ever seen (and frankly saved my ass from a blast that should have easily shattered my spine).
There were 19 ships in all. One for each dish. The Array was obliterated. I caught myself feeling sentimental, but quickly brushed it off as a prelude of bigger and more interesting things to come.
Spegg waved me down when he had everybody out safely and the situation was explained. I walked down to join him, trying my best to appear friendly and natural. The LMOs curled around, nodding at Spegg as he introduced me. They were all clearly bred from fish, and a couple of them looked remarkably like Spegg, but the others, well, didn’t. I immediately noticed a grouper in the crowd. He was short, fat, and had spotty, mottled flesh and thick, spiny hairs on his neck and arms. His lips were obnoxiously large and matched the pattern on his skin, tiny black dots and random splotches of yellow and white. I couldn’t look at him for long without feeling ill, but he was by far the most talkative and asked the stupidest questions and I naturally glanced over when I heard a voice, then swallowed and looked away, trying to conceal my revulsion. He didn’t seem to notice.
A salmon, one of the taller LMOs, had shiny, metallic skin and a compact, ruddy face. His arms and legs were thick and muscular, by far the strongest LMO in the crowd, and he stood at the front of the group in his clean, black, one-piece uniform with the startling confidence of someone who led men into battle. Apparently he was from the hot rod ship and even though we were all supposed to be on the same page, he stayed quiet and regularly fired a skeptical glance at me, making no secret of his suspicions. I unconsciously leaned a little closer to Spegg and tried not to meet his eyes.
When Spegg winded down, the crowd started peppering me with questions—big questions—such as the population of the Earth in this parallel, military weaponry, and the extent of our space programs. Spegg cut them off before I had a chance to answer, telling them that Earth of 2010 was a technologically primitive culture, practically the dark ages compared to 2176, and that once the LMOs were settled, they would have all the advantage. To point, he followed with a description of Station 151’s Array, its mission, and its technology, and the crowd of LMOs had a good laugh. I smirked and glanced at Spegg, who made a reassuring gesture that set me at ease.
I badly needed sleep and a meal so I headed up early while the LMOs salvaged the contents of their ships. The plan was to move the empty pods to another location and bury them under the snow just in case we got any unwanted attention. I had been out of touch with Telders—the money behind Station 151’s multi-million dollar operation—since the McMurdo team arrived, and I couldn’t imagine that he’d stay quiet for much longer. Plus, I was a little worried about the sheer size of this landing. Spegg’s arrival could have been easily dismissed as a meteor strike, but I had my doubts that this latest event wouldn’t raise an eyebrow or two in Washington or Moscow.
I just didn’t realize that it would be so soon.