Meet the Terrans

First contact is a bitch.

“I’m not looking forward to this,” Aksha’n’kul vibrated, twirling its wispy buds around its central mass, a sure sign it was feeling put-upon.

Its chief aide, Zett, offered a comforting protein infusion that wafted through the intervening space and was quickly snapped up by some of the ambassador’s speedier parasite-offspring, which were in turn ensnared and engulfed by Aksha’n’kul, momentarily disrupting its outer salt membrane. “You always get like this,” Zett puffed pinkly, “you know it’ll be fine. First contact is a great privilege.”

Aksha’n’kull rolled its upper-right sensor pod towards Zett. “Must you always be so positive?”

Zett wobbled apologetically. “The burden of my race.” Zett was a Congruent Soldaq Colony, a voluntary semi-permanent amalgamation of over a trillion Soldaq individuals, which gave it a rather unusual perspective. Such Colonies tended to have a rather philosophical outlook. Unlike the Nebulons, who were, by comparison, rather morose. Aksha’n’kul was a Vembran Nebulon, who were at least less outright xenophobic than most of the other gas-dwelling species that made up the widespread pan-Nebulon race, and over its long life of two-and-a-half galactic cycles, it had resolved hundreds of interstellar conflicts and welcomed thousands of species into the wider community of the local volume.

“My concern,” Aksha’n’kul continued as it deflated in order to drop into the lower umblical of the voidship with Zett obediently skittering after it, “is that these…what was it again?”

“Terrans, ambassador.”

It released a fragrant spore-stream to indicate embarrassment at having forgotten the minor detail. “Yes, Terrans. The concern I have with them is that they’re very young, you know?”

“I believe they’ve had the ability to visit other planets in their system for over a tenth of a cycle now, at least according to a preliminary study of their extra-atmospheric artefacts.”

Aksha’n’kul momentarily inflated with disgust, floating up to the top of the umbilical, where it bounced gently off the ceiling causing a few of its newer buds to pop open, spilling protein soup across its mercury membrane. Its parasite-offspring gorged themselves on the fresh bounty. “Are we certain they’re ready?”

“Is any species ever ready, ambassador?”

“I suppose not. I thought there was nothing worth exploring in this part of the galaxy anyway. How did we miss the rise of an intelligent species?”

“That may be due to their rapid evolution again, ambassador. Honestly, its pure chance that the Galbrok aethertug passed close enough to pick up the emissions. Another half-a-cycle and they’d probably have been extinct.”

“Well quite. So when was the planet last surveyed?”

Zett consulted the web of complex plasma strands that constituted part of its modular memory core. “There have been three surveys in the last hundred cycles,” it reported after a brief period at the metabolic speed of an individual Soldaq in order to properly scrutinise the ancient records. “The first was by a Xevvit spindlecraft during the height of the second Oc-oc Imperium with an eye to possible colonisation. The crew surveyed the planet from low orbit, but reported it as mostly frozen wastes with only the simplest lifeforms in evidence.”

Aksha’n’kul expressed its amusement with a multi-coloured torus that ghosted through its upper three membranes. “The Oc-oc wouldn’t have liked that.”

“No indeed.” The Oc-oc were plasmoids who preferred temperatures closer to those found on their near-molten homeworld. “The next survey was over fifty cycles later, this time by a wing of the Gok Hive, who discovered a much more convivial biosphere dominated by a number of related species, few of which showed much more than a glimmer of sentience. They earmarked it for later exploration, but of course when the…uh…incident with the Braxtal Eruption took place…that became rather a moot point.”

“Quite, quite.”

“The most recent visit was slightly under two cycles ago, by another voidship.”

“Ah yes, it was the Forriq Nebulons, wasn’t it? I think I absorbed that one. Rather alarming, I thought.”

“Indeed it was, ambassador. It was a long-range scan only, but it revealed a severely depleted ecology and an atmosphere with high concentrations of a number of toxic metals. It was felt that formal contact was unwise.”

“So what changed?”

“Evidently a sudden explosion of technological advancement. We’re still not sure how or why, but I suppose we’ll find out soon enough!”

They drifted through the umbilical’s exit and into the docking vacuole where they waited for the pressures to equalise. “What are they like then, these Terrans?”

Zett consulted its records again. “Rather odd, frankly,” it said eventually. “Organic chemistry, carbon-based. Bilaterally symmetrical, four limbs, differentiated physiology divided into organs and cells.”

“Not so strange…”

“No, but as ever with carbon lifeforms, the details matter. It seems the current incarnation of the Terrans evolved from a more primitive form several cycles ago. They, in common with many of their related species are broadly dimorphic.”

“Dimorphic? How so?”

“It appears to be connected to their reproductive cycle. Two individuals – one from each dimorph – couple together in a highly ritualistic series of vigorous movements, wherein one deposits a form of fluid into the other which then develops into one or more infants which later…um…force their way out.”

“That sounds traumatic.”

“I believe it can be, yes. This whole process – on which they are, understandably, somewhat fixated – allows them to recombine their hereditary traits, which are encoded in a form of helical protein structure in their cells.”

“You weren’t kidding about them being odd, were you?”

“I rarely kid about this sort of thing, ambassador, as you well know.”

“Is there anything else?”

Zett considered. Information was scarce, and it didn’t want to bias Aksha’n’kul ahead of the actual meeting. “We believe they may be somewhat aggressive. Territorial, primarily carnivorous, with a very primitive language we’re still struggling to accurately translate. From the few communications we’ve attempted though, they seem keen to make friends. They’re sort of endearing in a way, ambassador.”

Aksha’n’kul globulated its surprise with a dull thud of expanding membranes. “Endearing?”

“Yes. I know. They’re short-lived, frenetic, enthusiastic, but there’s something…I don’t know…you might call it wistful about them…”

The ambassador’s emotions were unreadable, and even its parasite-offspring stopped moving for a moment. “Wistful.”

“It’s hard to explain, ambassador. They’re very focused on the here-and-now, but from absorbing the communication records I infer a great loss in their past, as if something wonderful that once defined them has now faded into their ancient history.”

“Perhaps we’ll find out what it is. What’s their primary sense?”

“They use visible light, but their sensitivity to it is surprisingly poor given the nature of their craft and artefacts. We think they’re missing a trick given much of their communication is based on particulate matter absorbed through their respiratory organs.”

“Strange. How did they ever develop the means to get off their planet?” it vacillated wonderingly.

“Another mystery. Possibly they inherited it from some kind of precursor species. They seem friendly enough though. Just…don’t be offended if they try to lick you…”

“Excuse me?”

“Don’t worry about it, ambassador.”

“Right. Anything else I should know?”

“Nothing that would be helpful. Oh…wait…you might need this.” It formed a pseudopod and levitated a spherical object towards Aksha’n’kul, who extended a curious membrane to cradle it.

“What is this…?”

“It’s called a ball, ambassador. You’ll need to throw it to their leader. His name is Commander Scamps. If he accepts the greeting, he’ll bring it back to you.”

“What…?”

“Just trust me, please. Ah, they’re here.”

 

 

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