Behold - the original cover art from 1997! And apologies for the irregular distances between the lines. Hope you won't find it too distracting.
There was something in the back paddock. It was big. It was shaped like a plate. It had little lights that went bln bln bln bln in a sequence around the edge. There was a ramp extended to the ground from an open hatchway.
And it was squashing Farmer Zilbert's corn.
Hen the chicken approached it curiously. The ramp reminded her of the one in her pen that led up to the nest boxes and the food trays. So she hopped on. At the top of the ramp she became aware of the smell of grain. But it wasn't boring old wheat grain, it was an exciting exotic many-flavoured grain. Hen couldn't resist it, and continued inside.
Then the aliens came back and the saucer took off.
It was dark inside the forcefield cage and Archie couldn't see out. Who had kidnapped him? Were they really aliens or just people setting up a mystery for contributors to Saucer Spotter Monthly and The Alien Attacks Times?
There was movement outside. Archie hoped to hear voices, alien or human, but there were none, only some really weird smells.
"Here they are," the security guard said to . "We took three of these creatures, but one male has already been chosen."
looked through the one-way forcefields at the captive creatures. They had four limbs and walked only on the hind pair. Research had shown these creatures were male and female like his people. was glad. It would be disturbing to work with a member of a single or three-sex species. chose the male, silently promising himself not to tell his female associate, that he thought the male looked more intelligent.
"What other creatures did you take from the planet? Can I see them?" asked .
The security guard led the way. The first cage contained a hairy, tailed, black and white animal with big teeth and a black bulbous nose.
"They chose that creature because of its big nose," smelled the guard. "It must be able to hear at least basic speech with that."
The other cage was really a tank full of water. A suspicious-looking creature huddled in one corner.
"That creature was chosen because it's unusual. It has eight legs with suction cups underneath. Studies have shown it's also quite intelligent."
"It is strange," agreed . "I'd better go. I'll get that bipedal creature on the way past."
"Good luck, Linguist , hope you figure out his language," said the guard.
programmed the forcefield cage-box to levitate and follow behind him as he walked.
Inside, Archie felt the box rise and begin to move. He wondered where it was taking him.
Hen found the grain. It was in a tall clear bin. She flapped onto the top to get it out, but the entire thing wobbled, then crashed to the floor, spilling the grain. Undaunted, Hen hopped inside and started pecking up the luscious grain. She would never eat corn or wheat grain again, she promised herself. It Farmer Zilbert tried to give her that cardboard-flavoured junk she'd say no. Then Rooster would ask why she wouldn't eat the food and she'd describe the grain to him. He'd refuse wheat then, too, and so would all the other Hens.
Poultry, in their infinite wisdom, see no need for fancy names. It's simple. If you are an adult male your name is Rooster. If you're an adult female your name is Hen. If you're an aspiring young cockerel your name is often Wuss or Wimp or Piss-Otf-Turkey-These-Are-My-Hens.
Hen was so busy daydreaming, not realising she might never see her farm again, that she failed to hear the alien approaching the spilled bin. Suddenly two hands grabbed at her, but the hold was inexpert and the grabber seemed to lack the thumbs Farmer Zilbert always put under her belly to keep her still. Hen squawked, struggled and escaped, sprinting across the slippery floor, her leg feathers flapping, her wings half open.
The head cleaner watched her go and gave the olfactory equivalent of a sigh. He had a feeling this alien creature would be even harder to catch than normal animals. He went to find a net.
Alana Zilbert would have been worried about what was going to happen to her if she hadn't been so worried about her dog, Wally.
They had been out moving the sheep because her father was getting the shearers in tomorrow, when she'd somehow passed out, and awoken in a dark box. She'd called out to Wally, and heard him barking, but couldn't get out of the cage. There had been some strange odours outside, then the box had been lifted and moved. The sides of the box were clear now, so Alana could see out. She appeared to be in an alien's home.
Then the alien appeared in the doorway. It was more like a centaur than a "proper alien". It had a four-legged body with a thick heavy tail, and a two-armed torso rising from the front end. Its entire body appeared to be covered in green-grey plate-like scales. Its four short thick legs ended in round, three-toed paws and its hands were also round and three-fingered, with pads underneath like a dog's. Above a short, square muzzle were intelligent-looking eyes. A nose stood on its forehead, and Alana wrongly assumed the trumpet-shaped things on the sides of its head were its ears. The alien wore a long beaded collar around its neck that covered what appeared to be breasts on its chest.
approached her new pet cautiously. These aliens were more intelligent than any animal from her planet. It was even possible they were people, though the various religious groups would probably have something rude to say about that. The creature did not seem more afraid than could be expected. offered her some food.
Pinched-by-a-Crab poked about in her tank. It had nice rocks and seaweed, but was a little small. At least there were no moray eels in it.
She heard the footsteps of the human who came to feed her outside the room. Pinched-by-a-Crab saw four symbols on the door panel flash green as the human pressed the outside panel. They were , , and . Pinched-by-a-Crab thought about this as she watched the door slide open.
Archie's alien was beginning to look frustrated. It had made stinks, aromas and in-betweens at Archie, who couldn't understand a word He was sure he couldn't even smell some of the things that came wafting out of the alien's "ears". The alien sat down behind its desk and picked up a pen. It drew a few squiggles, then looked at Archie. Archie wondered if he should take the pen. He'd talked to the alien, clapped, shouted, but it appeared to be deaf.
Then, unexpectedly, the door opened and another alien came in. An alien with breasts. Archie was sure this was a woman-alien and gestured excitedly, hoping to get a response he could understand.
looked at the gesturing biped. Then she looked at . "He seems to like me," she said.
"I'm not sure how to communicate with him, though," scented . "He seems almost deaf and can't differentiate between those smells he can hear."
"Why don't you write something?" asked . "Didn't you see that documentary on those creatures? They put up big neon signs all over their cities. Write 'woman' since he's so interested in me."
"All right," said .
He made a loud, sudden smell to attract the human's attention. Then he wrote large and clear on his paper: . He pointed to .
Then he wrote next to it: and pointed to himself.
Archie almost cheered. The alien had written "woman-alien" and "man-alien" for him. He wanted their name for their whole species, though. He pointed to both aliens at once. He scored. The alien wrote . The larger part appeared to be a profile of an alien The v-shaped bit, he learned later, was a two. This whole character meant that the aliens had two sexes, male and female. Archie wrote HUMAN" and pointed to himself. Then he pointed to himself again and wrote "ARCHIE". He gave the male back the pen and pointed to him. The alien wrote . Just to make sure he wasn't confusing it with something else, Archie pointed to the female alien. She came forward and took the pen and wrote . That appeared to be their names: Fish and Eyes.
"I'd better go," said . "See how much you can teach that..." she pointed to "HUMAN". "We need a spoken word for him and his species. A simulation of his smell, perhaps."
"I'll work on it," replied . "How are you going with your alien, by the way?"
"The black and white hairy one? Really well. He understands commands and some simple speech and I didn't even have to teach him. His name is Smells-like-a-Dog because that's exactly what he smells like."
"'Dog'?" asked .
"That's what his species is called."
Hen stuck her head out of the box and looked around. There was a big alien that kept running after her with a net. Hen didn't want to be caught. She'd found another place yesterday with even better grain then the first. She'd also found a nice nest box behind a panel in a hallway, but couldn't stay long, because the alien's phenomenal sense of smell meant he could follow her tracks wherever she went. It was worth it for the grain, though. Hen heard the alien approaching and scooted away to find a new home.
Smells-like-a-Dog liked his home with the smelling alien. If he had been able to write he would have known her name was , the written symbol she used to represent her personal smell. She talked in scents which Smells-like-a-Dog could easily understand. He couldn't reply, though. It hadn't taken her long to figure out his name and begin to call him by it.
Many times he'd wished for a more interesting name, but he was stuck with being a dog who smelled just like a dog. His mother's name had been Smells-like-a-Winter-Morning and his father's Smells-like-a-Lazy-Slob, but when they'd sniffed the newborn pup, his mother had said "What's his name?" and his father had answered: "I don't know. He just smells like a dog to me."
But Smells-like-a-Dog missed his female pack leader. She had told him where to chase the sheep and her name-sound for him was "Woll-ee". He wondered where she was now.
came home. "Let's go for a walk," she smelled.
Smells-like-a-Dog wagged his tail. They went out the door and along the corridors. Then Smells-like-a-Dog stopped. He saw his female pack leader. She was walking with another , a collar and lead around her neck. There was another animal with the , a six-legged hairy creature with knob-ended antennae on its head and a muzzle like the . Smells-like-a-Dog had already met one of these. It was a "mind-dog" or .
Alana saw Wally. She pulled towards him, but the collar around her neck prevented her from reaching him. She called "Wally!" and saw him hesitate, but then his alien made a smell and gave a hand signal and he reluctantly continued along beside her.
The mind-dog on Alana's alien's other side sent What is that? into her head. A blue spark appeared between its antennae as it sent to and accessed her mind.
Friend, Alana thought for it.
Oh, thought the mind-dog.
When they returned to Alana's alien's home, Alana waited for the alien to leave again. When she finally did, Alana called the mind-dog to her. As they stepped back into the corridor, it gave what appeared to be the telepathic equivalent of a bark - several loud short bursts of thought that appeared to have no meaning. Then it began to trot along the hall, nose to the ground. It had found a smell it liked. Hoping it was Wally's, Alana followed the mind-dog. Several corridors later it became apparent that the mind-dog had not been trailing Wally. Alana saw a handsome young human man walking with a piece of paper in his hand.
"Hello!" she called.
He turned. "Hey! Another person! I thought I was the only one here. Who're you?"
"Alana Zilbert." said Alana. "Where are we? Is this a real spaceship?"
"I think so. I'm Archie Bilton," said Archie. "Where are you going?"
"Looking for my dog, Wally. Have you seen him? He's a border collie."
"They took a dog too? No, I haven't seen him. Do you live with a Two-Person too?"
"One of those centaury aliens They own this flying saucer, I think."
"Oh. Yes. This is her dog." She gestured to the .
Archie greeted the mind-dog.
"What did you say those aliens are called?" Alana asked.
"Two-People," said Archie. He looked at the note in his hand, then pointed to a symbol: .
"That's how it's written. I don't have a clue how you pronounce it, because it's a smell. I have to give the shop-aliens notes from my alien so they can give me what he wants to buy."
"Can you communicate with him?"
"Yes, I'm learning his written language. Maybe you could get your alien to teach you. Just go home and grab a piece of paper and a pen and write something like 'human and point to yourself. She should catch on."
"Great! Thanks I'd better go before my alien realises I've vanished." Alana turned to the mind-dog. Home, she thought at it.
The mind-dog looked up at her. It seemed very pleased with itself for some reason. It grinned and replied instead to a thought she hadn't consciously voiced. Me too, it said.
Hooter Schnozden had never realised octopuses were so intelligent. The octopus in question was owned by the same alien who appeared to own him. Hooter had recently learned that his alien's name was , so Hooter thought of him as "Fiveballs". Fiveballs was an animal behaviourist, who was studying Earth lifeforms.
Hooter was studying his octopus He fed it every day and had to come into its room from a door out in the main hall. Recently it had figured out that the sound of his footsteps outside the door meant he was coming to feed it. It had also memorised the door code. So when it heard Hooter, it would lean out of its tank, reach over to the inside door panel, and type in the door code. This would make the door open for Hooter.
The flying saucer was nearing Asteroid Base 27. The planned to refuel there and then continue their voyage of discovery to another planet where life had been reported. Technicians aboard the ship prepared the engines for refueling, mechanics oiled the landing feet, co-pilots sent and received radio scentmessages. When the saucer finally landed, the crew were exhausted and went to bed early. They would work on the ship in the morning.
That night, a bunch of vandals crept up to the ship. They planted something on the hull and ran away, sniggering to themselves. The something had a screen with little red numbers on it counting down towards zero. The something went beep, beep! beep in time with the numbers. The numbers counted , , , , , , , , , . And then the mine exploded.
The saucer rocked. Some of the roof fell in. The mine began to emit a pink mist that spread throughout the ship. The smelt it first. They dashed around thinking at everyone they saw. Then they collapsed, their legs quivering, their tongues hanging out. Their owners began to get worried. Then they smelt the pink mist.
Archie watched in horror as Fish collapsed. He quickly gave Fish a pen and paper hoping he could explain what was wrong. Fish could hardly hold the pen, but he managed to write "Two-People from out ship. Get!" Fetch Two-People from the asteroid base? Archie hurried away.
Hen the chicken watched the humans as they made their way towards the exit. She had started following an older male human, who had come out of a doorway. Then the human had met a younger male human and then they'd both joined up with a female. The female seemed familiar somehow. She reminded Hen of food.
When the humans reached the exit and figured out how to open the door and extend the ramp, Hen smelt yet another variety of grain. It had enticed her onto the ship, now it enticed her off again. Always ready to try a new flavour, she nipped out in front of the humans and dashed dawn the ramp.
"Hey! A chook!" said Archie, watching it go.
"We'd better catch it," recommended Hooter. "I don't think the Two-People would want a chook in their asteroid."
"We used to keep hens like that on the farm," said Alana.
They hurried after the escapee chicken.
Hen found a restaurant. There were lots of there.
Archie, Alana and Hooter came in. The looked at them in curiosity.
The room began to overflow with smells as the argued about what these strange creatures were and what should be done with them. The humans looked around, hoping to spy a pen and a piece of paper to write on. In their hurry to get help they had forgotten to bring writing implements. They could not communicate with the .
Then there was a rattle and a thud. All eyes turned to Hen, who was - now well versed in the art - rocking the grain container back and forth. As they watched, it wobbled, tipped, then spilled. Hen hopped in to peck up the fat blimp-shaped grains.
Alana had an idea. "Quick! Use the grain to spell out a message to the Two-People!" she said.
They grabbed handfuls of grains. Words began to form on the floor:
The looked at the grain message. "Come get Two-People in ship in 21," they read. They looked at the bipedal creatures. The female had picked up the grain-eating thing and was holding it firmly under one arm They looked agitated and kept moving towards the door. They smelled worried. The led the messengers back to Bay 21. They smelled the pink vapour and hurried away, signalling the unaffected bipeds to stay where they were. They soon returned, this time with gas-masks and medical equipment.
In the ship, the medical teams rushed back and forth, rescuing paralysed crew members.
Hooter and Archie found themselves with a rescue squad at 's door. It was locked. Hooter typed the access code, but the door was in open-only-from-the-inside mode. The rescue squad were just radio-calling outside for electro-magnetic crowbars...
Pinched-by-a-Crab heard footsteps outside. More importantly she heard Hooter's footsteps outside. Great, she thought, it was dinnertime. She suction-cupped up the front of her tank and leaned over to the door panel.
, , , , she typed. The door slid open, revealing some surprised looking Two-People, Hooter and another human. When she realised he was not going to feed her, the octopus gave Hooter a sound suction-cupping on the nose.
Meanwhile, the rescuers were evacuating Fiveballs. They put a gas-mask on him, then, because he was still unconscious, carried him out on a stretcher.
Following another team, Archie and Hooter met up with Alana again. As they went down a corridor, they heard frantic barking. Rushing towards them was Wally.
"Wally!" yelled Alana. He rushed into her arms and slurped her on the face, but just as quickly, ran out again. He dashed down the corridor and ran back again.
"Come on! Come on!" yelled Smells-like-a-Dog. He'd seen other dogs do this on TV and the humans always understood. They always made the same noise before starting off after the dog, too, some sort of special ritual, he supposed. As soon as he'd heard it, he'd know that his female pack-member and the other humans were coming. Sure enough, he heard one of them say, "I think he wants us to follow him." Smells-like-a-Dog had also learned from TV that the dog was then expected to yell louder to tell the humans he'd understood this ritual He did so.
He led the humans to a corridor where the roof had fallen in from the mine blast. was trapped underneath it. Smells-like-a-Dog poked her with his nose and was satisfied she was all right. She was carried away by a rescue team, so he began to follow his female pack-reader around.
It took several days for the to recover from the effects of the paralysing pink mist. It took several more to repair the flying saucer.
The guest speaker stood on the podium. "I would like to say how grateful we all are to the creatures from the strange Earth planet," he smelled. "The crew and passengers of the Space Explorer Researcher have decided to give the 'humans'," - he made sure his olfactory enunciation of 's new word was correct - "a choice. They may be either taken home to their Earth planet now and released along with this dog and this 'chicken' and this 'octopus'," - these were more of 's new words for the alien animals - "Or they may continue to travel on the Researcher to the next planet on the investigation list and return home at any time they choose after that. 'Humans', please consider -we will ask for your answer tomorrow." Back in the ship, explained with simple writing and pictures the choice the earth creatures were being offered.
Smells-like-a-Dog understood He knew what he wanted. He liked the Two-People and wanted to stay with . He barked loudly when talked about staying.
Pinched-by-a-Crab didn't understand humans or Two-People, but as long as she was safe from moray eels and got lobster for dinner and mental stimulation like an abacus to play with, or figuring out the new door code, she was happy.
Archie found the Two-Person language and culture fascinating. He had no job and no family and his life on Earth had been rather boring anyway.
Alana wanted Wally to be happy and she quite liked the Two-People. If she could somehow send her father a letter, he would be satisfied - he'd always believed in flying saucers. And she sort of liked Archie....
Hooter had hated being a switchboard operator and had always meant to learn a foreign language. He wanted to stay and look after his octopus.
Hen the stowaway chicken looked around the room. She saw a grain bin. She flapped onto the top, wobbled and tipped it. Alana caught it before it spilled. Archie grabbed the chook. "I think she's made up her mind," said Hooter.
The humans went out to give the Two-People their answer.
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