Kathmin looked over the balcony. This was one of his favorite traditions at the Annual Galactic Scientific Forum, standing at the railing, watching the crowd arrive below. It was captivating to observe as individuals rediscovered old friends, colleagues huddled to preview their most recent papers, and the conference hosts tried to herd the galaxy’s most distinguished minds, like children, into the myriad registration queues winding their way through the grand reception hall.

“Still fascinated by the fact most species greet each other by shaking their manipulating digits?” A voice questioned behind him. Kathmin turned to find his old friend, Rhubul, approaching. Rhubul had been his roommate at the university on Sauhng Prime ages ago, and they’d remained friends, using the AGSF as an opportunity to reconnect whenever possible.

“Still mildly apprehensive as to whether or not the sanitizing protocols are sufficient to protect them from the contact?” Kathmin responded.

“No, no, my friend,” Rhubul responded, “following the outbreak of Tarmin parasites on Vena 2 this year, the committee reviewed the decontamination protocols in-depth and made a few modifications to the pre-arrival requirements.”

“Oh, yes, the “registration requirements.” I know you bacillophobic members of the Health, Safety, Security and Sanitation Oversite Committee mean well,” laughed Kathmin, “but was the anal probe really necessary?”

“You know that’s not the proper committee designation.” Rhubul chastized, “Regardless, whatever you and your evaluating clinician consensually engaged in during your procedure, I assure you, no member of the committee wants to know about it, particularly this member.”

Kathmin chuckled and extended his hand, “It’s good to see you again, Rhubul. It’s been a long time. I’d hoped to find you when I saw you were appointed to the Health Oversight Committee this year. It’s been, what, a year since we spoke? I’ve tried to contact you a few times through the nets, but it was almost like you’d slipped right off the disc.”

As they shook hands, the subtle hues on Rhubul’s frills shifted slightly yellow, “I’ve been away on a commissioned assignment,” he replied.

“On assignment?” Kathmin questioned. “What sort of assignment requires the galaxy’s leading microbiologist to disappear for a year without access to the nets?”

Rhubul glanced around quickly as his frills tinted yellow once again and held up one claw, “That is why I hoped to find you, my friend. We should catch up, but in a less crowded place.”

Kathmin had meant it as a joke. But given the loss of composure in his friend, he knew when to take a hint, so he dropped it. Given Rhubul’s reaction, this hint may as well have been delivered in flashing neon.

Rhubul’s data slate chimed, interrupting their reunion. “My apologies,” he said, “but duty calls. Let’s catch up for refreshment later. Shall we meet at that Erosien place off the main hall this afternoon for tea?”

“Yea, like I’m falling for that again. I remember when you got me to try those dried herbs leeched into tepid water back in grad school. What I don’t remember is you disclosing the level of caffeine that leeched into the beverage. I do, however, remember small pieces of the hallucinogenic nightmare of the next 72 hours. Just because you’re one of a handful of sapients who can metabolize alkaloids without adverse effects doesn’t mean the rest of us want anything to do with them. But that sounds good. See you then,” Kathmin replied.

“Never going to let it go, will you? As I’ve said a thousand times, I knew it wouldn’t kill you. Besides, we’d never have learned how funny you can be when you’re stoned! I wonder if I could still find that police video of you on the nets naked, up on the roof of the dormitory? Oh well, I’ll let you get back to standing there, watching nothing happen in the crowd below; I’ve got to take this,” Rhubul teased as his slate chimed again.

“Oh, shut up. You can’t even tell it’s me with that waste bin on my head. And for the record, I’m a cultural anthropologist,” Kathmin said, feigning exasperation, “if we didn’t stand around watching people do nothing, we’d never do anything.”

Rhubul waved as he walked away, talking into his slate.

Kathmin turned back to the crowd below. That was interesting. Rhubul was one of the few Andronians Kathmin had met who could control most of his physiological responses to emotion. To see that slip of the frill, whatever called him away, given the hue, must have been unsettling.

The crowd below continued to build as more attendees arrived for the conference. The AGSF was a whole week of presentations by the galaxy’s most prestigious scientists on a wide variety of subjects. Whatever your field of scientific study, it was likely represented. This was the first year that Kathmin was to present. When the request first arrived, he assumed it was a mistake, or perhaps there had been a hole in the schedule they were desperate to fill. However, he was humbled to learn that it was specifically requested that he present his newest paper. That, he was sure, was a mistake. Physicists could fill an amphitheater as they discussed quantum entanglement and the theoretical efficiencies of the newest gravitic pulse drives. Kathmin wondered how many would attend his lecture on “Folkloric Phantasma: A Study of the Inter-Species Similarities on the Concept of Demons.” Kathmin smiled as he watched a trio of Olejians touch antennae, then grasp manipulating digits and shake in greeting. “Why do we always shake?” He wondered to himself.


Kathmin was standing to the right of the podium as one of the hosts introduced him. His academic credentials were strong but not terribly impressive. As the host cited some of his research, Kathmin scanned the audience, reflecting on the direction of his career. Ten people, that’s how many had attended his lecture. He was off to a great start, though, as that was about ten more than he’d expected.

Interestingly, Rhubul was in the audience. The host spoke of Kathmin’s fascination with the similarities between species and cultures, even pre-contact, on a variety of subjects. His research had most recently focused on commonalities on the topics of death, evil, and monsters. Kathmin was lifted from his reverie as the host stopped speaking and approached the podium.

“Thank you for that kind introduction, and I thank those of you in the audience who elected to attend this lecture. I promise to speak quietly enough not to disturb this time you’ve specifically allotted in your conference schedule for a nap.” This elicited the desired humorous responses from the audience. “I’ve always been fascinated by similarities in cultures,” Kathmin continued. “Light-heartedly, we could ask, as I did in my graduate thesis, why do we greet each other by shaking manipulating appendages? Consider nearly every first contact holo-vid. Uniformly, the discovered species extends a hand, digit, or forelimb in greeting. As the host indicated, though, what has fascinated me more recently is the study of our mythological demons. We’re going to have some audience participation today. Looking into this vast crowd, I see a variety of species represented. If you don’t mind,” Kathmin stated as he approached a member of the audience, “would you please tell us your name and describe your species’ image of a demon?”

The Olejian first appeared uncomfortable at being singled out but quickly recovered and responded as though still in school, standing. She was about 1.5 standard units tall, insectoid in appearance, and obviously, given her sex and lack of entourage, one of the scholar caste serving her hive. “My standard galactic designation is, Xil,” she responded, “and I am Cultural First Study, serving the Queen of Fourth Hive on Ole. Demons in our culture are associated with violence, pain, and despair. To us, they are seen as bipedal, with long fangs, claws, and unimaginable strength. As our intraspecies communications are largely based on pheromones, it may also be helpful to offer that demon and anger are largely synonymous in concept.”

“Thank you, Xil,” Kathmin replied, “That was an excellent summary. Demons in Olejian lore are particularly interesting. Where other species have ancient texts containing fantastical narratives on their demons, with those from Ole, a collective hive memory of their demons exist. However, I’m told these memories are discounted due to various breakdowns in how they were created, raising questions on their validity. Xil, perhaps you could share with us some reasons why a memory in a hive mind might be discounted as invalid?”

Xil seemed to consider for a moment, then responded, “Typically, for a memory to be valid, it must be shared among multiple members of the hive as a collective experience and curated by select members of my caste. Or, it must be sourced from a trusted hive member deemed to have the requisite skills to integrate new information into the collective. I would be an example of such a member. Remember, not all information is of interest or useful to all members of the hive and is therefore compartmentalized to prevent overwhelming individual minds. Older memories and histories are typically passed through the Queens, or those like myself serving the Queens, and must be closely examined for their veracity. In the case of demons, the memories of them are…incomplete. The fragmented memories we have of demons were created by our soldier caste, a group that would never be allowed to create such collective memories independently. These memories occur around the same time as an apparent cataclysm in our past that nearly wiped out our species. What we can piece together comes mostly from the memories sourced from workers, nursemaids, and farmers, as well as the idea of demons from the aforementioned soldiers. Though these shared collective memories would normally give credence to validity, these memories are laden with overwhelming confusion, paralyzing fear, despair, and a desperate remorse. We think the “demons” were a shared collective idea to personify the difficulties in rebuilding our world from an unknown near extinction-level event in our pre-history. We have only fragments of memories before this time. Whatever calamity occurred, there were no queens or even a ruling caste to curate the memories and properly filter emotions. As a result, the idea of demons persists but carries no validity.

“Thank you, Xil, that is fascinating,” Kathmin marveled. “It’s always incredible to learn how a collective mind works and filters the noise from billions and billions of points to arrive at what is determined real and worthy of remembrance. Interestingly, while these memories are viewed as nonsense by the Olejian, in much the same way as my people would view the dreams of a child, these stories have nonetheless survived in their collective consciousness.”

Kathmin continued, “Let’s hear from another. What about my Andronian friend in the back?”

Rhubul stood up, his 2.5 standard unit frame towering over the others in the room. The frills around his head were neutral, but Kathmin hoped his friend was at least a little embarrassed for being singled out. The loose, leathery skin covering his reptilian frame shifted as he settled back on his tail to think before speaking. He began with a hint of sarcasm, “My name is Rhubul, and as our esteemed colleague has observed, I’m from Androna and a micro-biologist by training specializing in evolutionary aspects of the science at the University of Xachem on Mershal Veda. Much as Xil has covered, we too have tales of demons in ancient texts, but they are the personification of death in our lore. Our physical descriptions of them run similar to the Olejian, only without the fangs. They are large, bipedal beings, nearly our size but 2-3 times our mass. They come in a variety of colors but, like us, have neither hair nor fur. ”

Rhubul continued, “As the apex predators on our world, we had to invent our monsters. Those inventions had to be fantastical to create fear in a people with no reason to fear anything naturally on our world except each other. Therefore, the demons we imagined were physically quick, unimaginably strong, and dangerously clever. They could tear limbs from our bodies, consume us, and trick us with the most cunning traps. All nonsense, of course, but it does create the desired effect when trying to scare a pesky hatchling. To some extent, these ancient ideas persist today. For example, our warriors still carry the notion of death chasing them into battle. When death comes for you, you can’t outrun it. No matter how fast or far you run, death will catch you. The demons will always catch you.”

“Thank you, Rhubul,” Kathmin said. “Perhaps one more description from the audience if we could have a volunteer?”

A small aquatic mammal stood up, indicating they would speak. Standing about one standard unit tall and covered with fur, his large eyes scanned the audience, and his whiskers twitched as he spoke. “My name is Fahl, and I’m a Rhoderian, a theologist by training, serving in the state temple on our capital world, so I know something of the concept of demons in my people. One of our most ancient texts speaks of these beings and describes them as furless, bipedal giants. They were beautiful, unimaginably strong and clever, with eyes and voices as soft as rainwater on the leaves above a stream. In the stories, we swam and fished together and saw them as representatives of the gods. They comforted and protected us. They were creatures full of love. But from the text, we learn that appearances can be deceiving.”

Fahl continued, “In the tale, they encouraged us to abandon superstition and the gods, offering to give us the knowledge of heaven. Our people forsook the gods of our ancestors for the false promises of the demons. The gods were angry with us and sought to punish us. The demons abandoned us to make war with the gods in heaven. The gods expunged the demons, casting them back to Ulterra. We were expelled from paradise for our betrayal, and the text speaks of a great calamity befalling our world as punishment. Current teachings, of course, carry none of these unfounded parables, and there is no evidence to support any such allegorical nonsense in sanctioned religious texts or the historical records. However, the stories and the idea persists, such that even today, duplicitous and violent individuals are referred to as demons, though a layperson would likely not know the origins of the term.”

“Thank you, Fahl,” Kathmin said. “While it is not unique to the culture of Rhodera to incorporate the idea of demons into religion, few species have your perspective. Demons to your people were kind, benevolent creatures who encouraged you to raise yourselves up in the light of science, rejecting superstitious dogma, right up until they abandoned you to the punishment of your deities.”

“My friends,” Kathmin said as he returned to the podium. “This is what drew me to the topic. Why do so many races possess folkloric tales of bipedal demons without fur, feathers, or scales? Most portrayals from my studies also include apocalyptic strength, and some, as noted, have claws and fangs. Universally, the descriptions include the piercing intelligent eyes of a predator and a capability or even propensity towards violence, bordering on the obscene. Some people, such as the Ulthrek, elevated these demons to their gods of war in their pre-contact history. Why are these ancient images ubiquitous along the western edge of the galaxy and found among the oldest races elsewhere in the galactic union. My theory, and the essence of the paper I recently published, contains a possible solution. I assert that at some point in time, in the galaxy’s distant past, these demons were real.”

At that, the host interrupted, apologizing but pointing out that the session’s time had expired. As the audience began to exit, an archeologist from Nargel commented to Kathmin, “Where is the evidence to support such a claim? While the notion of precursor influence on a species is not new, no precursor society has ever been found to influence more than a small region of the galactic disc. Those we have found have left archeological evidence behind, often in substantial quantities across multiple worlds. A suggestion such as yours would require culture of pan-galactic influence, and no evidence of any such thing has been found!” And with that, he turned and left.

Kathmin sighed and thanked the host for the opportunity. Rhubul was waiting by the door.

Kathmin approached him and stated, “Well, that went about exactly as expected.”

“Agreed. You told a room full of learned beings that the monsters from their nightmares not only probably existed but probably ruled the galaxy. In another format, Fahl may have had you arraigned on charges of heresy.”

Kathmin chuckled, “No doubt, no doubt. As I said, about exactly as expected.”

Rhubul stood and said, “Well, how about that tea?”

“Sounds good,” Kathmin replied. “Any chance you’re going to tell me why you dropped off the disc the last year?”

“Yes,” Rhubul replied, “but not here. Let’s get to our Erosien diner. A friend of mine will meet us there.”


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