“I think I see their community.” Delia Martin said, her face pressed close to the viewport. Dr. Jones did not reply, his eyes squeezed shut, his deep black complexion seemed paler than usual. Dr. Jones’s fingernails dug into the arm rests and he seemed to be focused on his breathing. “Do planet landings frighten you Dr. Jones?”
“What?... Oh, excuse me. Yes, put me in front of any living organism and I’m fearless, but getting down to them is a bit nerve wracking.”
“It’s beautiful,” Delia said.
Dr. Jones tried to peek over her shoulder but her curled brown hair obstructed his view. “I’ll get to work verifying the atmospheric readings.” A half hour later and their shuttle’s door slid open.
The Urboo indeed proved to be a sentient society. They used tools, hunted what appeared to be water fowl with spears, had developed art, and raised their young cooperatively. Dr. Jones became intrigued by what he observed of their physiology. The Urboo seemed to lack a skeletal system, no bones or exoskeleton. The beings looked partially transparent allowing casual, noninvasive study. Specialized cilia covered their bodies like a fine fur and seemed to hold their otherwise gelatinous tissues in a bipedal form. When the Urboo moved about their cilia did all the work, Dr. Jones found it beautiful and mesmerizing to see the Urboo get around.
Delia Martin also became completely engrossed in her studies among the Urboo. A pair of juveniles grew fond of her as well. She had a working vocabulary of around thirty sounds in just under seven days.
“Join us in hunt for food,” an Urboo invited, careful to use only the scant phrases Delia had picked up.
“We join the hunt,” Delia carefully enunciated in reply.
The three Urboo with whom the humans became most familiar led the hunters deep into what seemed to Delia to be carrot like stalagmites and fungal growth. Dr. Jones quizzed the Urboo relentlessly about the vegetation. The following day the hunters returned to the Urboo encampment with a Vigdaa across Dr. Jones’s shoulders, its tentacles flapped in the breeze like a tattered cape.
During the feast that followed Delia slipped off to the shuttle for her rations, while Jones opted to sample the native fare. Though she left for only a moment, Jones had apparently gone native with one of the Urboo.
“I asked about how they make babies,” Dr. Jones confided as Delia helped the man back to the shuttle to rest. His Urboo, and at this point it was his Urboo garbled contentedly from its perch on Jones’s back. Cilia had dug into flesh and the being flattened itself across Jones’s back, shoulders, neck, and the back of his head.
Delia spoke with the Urboo at length, often wearing a puzzled expression. She gave a weak smile to Dr. Jones and said “This Urboo has accepted your offer to mate into the tribe, a process which will take a couple days and once started is irreversible.”
Dr. Jones handled the news much better than Delia thought. He theorized that his feelings of near euphoria came from contact with the Urboo. The juveniles whom Delia spent most of her time with urged her to leave Dr. Jones alone as the reproductive process looked very frightening to those who didn’t understand it. Both Urboo assured her that the man she knew would still exist and in some ways to better than before.
On the fourth day a strange tearing sound could be heard from the shuttle and Delia raced for the hatch, then stopped cold in her tracks. A puffy, translucent egg sack had burst, and a dozen small semi-translucent Joneses emerged, covered in the fine silia, and roughly two feet tall.
“Delia, I’ve had the most incredible experience,” one little Jones said. “The Urboo and I have become like a shared awareness spread out among each of us,” he indicated his brood mates. “The Urboo are a giant virus. They reproduce by infecting a host. Think of the possibilities for human kind. Our starship is already preparing to colonize another world. These creatures can instantly adapt to a new environment simply by breeding into the indigenous population.”
“Dr. Jones, we’ve got to prevent the Urboo from returning with us. Everyone on the starship would be replaced by Urboo copies like you,” Delia said. Suddenly aware that the new Jones probably didn’t mind, she turned to make for the cockpit.
“Just relax,” Jones said.
She felt small hands take hold of hers, then other small hands grabbed her legs. The cilia that punctured her back really did have quite a euphoric effect.