I have to admit, the trip out to Lyra 3 was one of the most interesting of my career. I must’ve been in my late 40s at the time, and my work had never been better. I’d certainly been to more planets and studied more organisms than most researchers my age; wasn’t much that surprised me. But this little critter, this was something I’d never seen before.
I was working with two middle-aged fellows back then, brothers actually. Both a mite jumpy, but they knew their stuff. This expedition, as are far too many, was saddled with a few extra hands. What can you do? The government funds the research, and the government wants students to get hands-on experience. So there are always a few university students underfoot. Most of the time, it wasn’t too frustrating, but this case was unique. Generally, the kids are the tops in their class, hard-working, full of promise. Still got in the way sometimes, but were willing to do grunt work and didn’t take much looking after. This girl was a politician’s daughter. Entering her third year, with a major in partying and a cursory—at best—interest in exotic wildlife. But her father signs the checks, so she comes along. And she brings two bodyguards on a milk run. Dangblasted overprotective parents. The planet had been mostly surveyed already, and the chances of finding any new organisms weren’t terribly high. There was no sign of any danger, certainly no need for a pair of wannabe SS Agents.
We landed on unsettled side of the planet about an hour before sunset. Lots of open fields, much like the Midwestern United States, back home on Earth. The flight had been tiring—somehow, no matter how much you fly, it still takes it out of you—so we stayed in the ship for the evening. I spent the evening talking with Greg and Tim, the two guys I was working with. We had a couple drinks and gazed out the window, taking in the unfamiliar landscape. Around twilight, we saw a few mid-sized mammals wander into the field. Looked much like the deer I used to watch in my back yard when I was a kid. Curious coloring though. Mostly a light shade of brown, but with white markings around the hindquarters. Can’t imagine the use for that camouflage, but every ecosystem has its own quirks. I didn’t see Hannah—that was the Uni girl—that night. I suspect she was holed up in her room talking to her friends back home; most kids do, even the serious ones, on their first real expedition. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism, a way to handle the sudden shift to foreign surroundings. They’ve usually never been outside their system, you know; it’s amazing how little kids have seen of the 'verse.
The next morning, we got to work. Explored the area immediately surrounding the ship, tried to find traces of the animals we’d seen the night before. They didn’t leave much of a trail, but we were meticulous, and we found signs that they’d been there. A couple hoofprints really; that was all. Hannah was impatient, thought we weren’t exciting enough. Not surprising. She had a bigger sense of entitlement than any three kids I knew. Can’t blame her, really. Rich father. Lovely figure. I would’ve liked to look like that when I was in college. Money, hovers, boys, I’ll wager she got anything she wanted even before she knew she wanted it. But not now. She wanted exciting and exotic, and she got a couple deer tracks. Her glorified escorts followed her around. I don’t remember what they were called. Thug One and Thug Two. Their names don’t make much difference; what happened still happened, whatever I call them.
Around 5:00, Hannah had given up for the day, gone back to the ship to demand some dinner, I suppose. Thug One and Thug Two wanted to scout out the territory, make sure there wasn’t any danger lurking. I let them; no use fighting the system. If they scared something away, it’d be back tomorrow. The three of us remaining found a new insect, a mutation from the grasshopper, so we collected a specimen and returned to the ship around half past six.
The Thugs came sprinting through the door not ten minutes later, with what looked an awful lot like white spandex over those ridiculous camo pants. Well, looked a lot like spandex at first; upon slightly closer examination, it looked more like they’d both acquired a bit of bladder trouble. The both of them were wearing adult diapers. They didn’t think it was quite so funny though. They told me they’d found some white synthetic objects on the ground, a bit out of place in these parts, to say the least. Anyways, all of a sudden, these things snap up, lock their jaws around their waists, and we have two diapered bodyguards. I shouldn’t laugh, but the scene was so absurd it was hard not to. Didn’t quite believe their story. The attack they described reminded me a bit of Alien, that old movie they show in all the 20th century cinema classes, certainly not like anything I’ve encountered in any serious study.
But I took a look, and you know what, the little buggers were alive. They looked man-made as can be, but they were most assuredly not, and they’d taken a liking to those Army pants. I took pity on the poor thugs and tried to rid them of their new friends, but let me tell you, it was harder than you would’ve thought. Like I said, they looked like snug fitting diapers; Hannah’s bodyguard friends had been unable to extricate themselves, but they didn’t complain of the creatures being clamped on too tight. Thought a sharp knife would get them right off. But those things were dug deep into his waist. I tried to make a cut at Thug One’s waistband, and I bet it took a two-inch deep chunk of skin with it. Needless to say, he didn’t let me try again. For bodyguards, those two were sure nervous around knives, especially knives cutting around their lower parts.
Those two, of course, were in a panic, understandable under the circumstances. I was a bit worried myself. Got more worried when they told me they could feel the creatures getting closer to their skin. I remember I asked Thug Two, “so what exactly are you telling me it’s doing?”
“It’s eating through my clothes,” he told me, “Ain’t no kind of normal creature can do that. Parts of it are pressed right up against my ass already.” As if we needed another cause for alarm, one of his pant legs dropped to the floor, a nearly surgical cut where the fabric had met the creature. We were calling it a creature now, because diaper didn’t quite sound appropriate to the situation. Too soft, too safe.
I was almost as frightened as he was now, but I tried to act collected, “You feel it against your skin? Is it burning? Is it eating further?”
He shook his head, “No. It don’t feel like it should be attacking. It’s. . . it’s soft. But look how it. . .” he gasped as we saw a stream of dark green liquid leak from the center of the creature, pooling on the floor. Never had I seen, and never have I seen anywhere else, fabric dissolve like that. But it did, swear to God.
We’d forgotten Hannah this whole time, but if it hadn’t been for her drinking problem, who knows when we’d have gotten out of there. I guess I should be grateful. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Hannah had apparently been partaking freely from a bottle of rum and some Jack and Coke stashed away in her room. We didn’t hear from her until the door to the ship slammed and she stumbled outside. She wasn’t far when I got to the door and shouted, “Hannah! You get your ass in here right now!” Must’ve had some mothering instinct in me, with that kind of exclamation.
“Just gonna look closer at the deer,” she murmured and continued out into the field.
Without warning, I saw a flash of white and heard an ear-piercing scream—that kind that only the young girls can quite deliver. Hannah froze in her tracks, but Tim, of all people, managed to run out, grab her, and drag her back. “Are you alright?” he panted. Apparently, dragging someone 40 yards was much more exertion than he was used to.
“I. . . I,” she stammered and broke down sobbing; between the liquor and the fear, she couldn’t even manage a second word. As the tears rolled down her face, I happened to glance down at the creature attached to her jeans. In contrast to the stark white of the other two, this one was looked rather yellow, and sagged significantly. Honestly, it looked as if it didn’t have much interest in clinging to her. On a whim, I reached grabbed the center of the beast and pulled it toward me, surprised to find that it disattached easily. It hadn’t dissolved her jeans a bit, but it had been sucking moisture from them. I could still see a faint discoloration around her crotch.
At that point, it didn’t take a biologist to put two and two together. I simply put the specimen in a jar and set about ridding Thug One and Thug Two of their problems. It took a while to convince them that pissing themselves was the answer, but I was able to, and as they hastily reclothed, we set off with three perfect specimens in hand.
Upon studying the creatures back in the lab, I found that they really didn’t pose any danger to humans. On the flight home, I saw the yellow discoloration fade with the progression of time, and I began to suspect that they lived off animal waste. I was right. Urine and feces were all it took to keep these guys alive. As it turns out, they had an astounding ability to dissolve synthetic fabrics but to avoid damage to the hair and skin of any other living organism. Like I said, fascinating little buggers, never seen anything like them. But the next little piece of information takes the cake: their waste product, expelled by a periodic stream from the center of the creature (the crotch of whomever it was attached to), was pure, clear water.
Nowadays, the settlers on Lyra 3 voluntarily have a symbiotic relationship with the little diaper critters. They enter in infancy. Kids don’t need to potty train, city engineers don’t have to worry about a sewage problem, and the settlers have an unending supply of water. I suppose there are some drawbacks. Limits the chances for sex or taking showers to right after urination—else the creatures won’t let go—but it’s a fair trade. Wouldn’t be surprised to see everyone using them in a few years time.