There was a peculiar scent in the air, a mix of spilled petrol and roasted pork with sweetsop. Bata had visited many of these metrolettes, and they all had their own smell.
He removed the clear regulator mask from beneath his robes, the rubber hose snaking back beneath the folds, situated the mask over his nose and mouth, and pulled down the face visor from his helmet. Even if this place smelled like rose water and housed only humans, he’d still need the visor for the integrated translator. More and more people were choosing to speak babble, a private language unique to each individual, the particulars known only to the speaker and their cryptware which could translate it into standard, or more often into someone else’s babble.
Communication was a weapon. It directly altered the physical microstructures of the brains of both the sender and the receiver. The Mantises knew this. Humans were still catching up.
The towers and habstacks of the metrolette were ostensibly designed for humans, but not by them. Alien architecture. Uncanny but intractable, like in a dream when you were talking to a friend but she was really your mother. Odd.
The aliens were not mantises, of course, but the resemblance was obvious. Bata always thought the name was unfair to the earthbound variety. At least they prayed. The Mantises from elsewhere, they had no God; Bata thought maybe they’d eaten theirs.
He approached the tent town in the shadow of the towers. The sun was growing tired, and soon the bonfires would come to life. Some of the dwellers flailed and gyrated at him, making yipping noises like small dogs. He ignored the translations streaming across his HUD. They had nothing good to say to him, and he had nothing at all to say in return.
A Mantis scurried about on an elevated platform a little further along—doing only God knows what—and he made his way over, stepping carefully around piled garbage. He reached the platform, climbed up, and looked up at the creature. It was easily three meters tall, and its multijointed mandibles could have plucked his head from his body like a grape—he’d seen it.
“I would like to speak with the Presider.”
The Mantis ignored him, going about its indeterminable task. Bata pulled his messenger bag from around his back and opened the flap. The alien hissed and spit with desire, but Bata threw the flap closed. “Not yet,” he said. “First, the Presider.”
More hissing and spitting, but his visor translator did its job. “Dangerous game, human. Come with me.”
Notes: I used an image as a writing prompt for this piece. You may be able to find the image on the artist’s ArtStation page. Image by Yujin Choo, used with permission.