‘Why? Well, I hope my body will help them understand us. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be able to help them understand themselves better once they realize they aren’t alone.
I do worry somewhat about raining death upon them though. It doesn’t seem like such a very friendly thing to do.’
Cockerell Smythington smiles into the camera with crooked teeth and leans back, looking satisfied and important. The camera slowly pulls back to reveal the bookcase backdrop he’s sat in front of is just one section out of two stories of stacks and stacks.
Pulling further back, the red velvet overstuffed wingback chair he looks very comfortable and cozy in reveals a companion matching couch, a traditional wooden coffee table bearing a round sliver tray upon which cut crystal decanters filled with pastel-colored liquids share space with cut crystal lowball glasses, then, just as it enters the frame of the shot from the right, the zoom slows and stops with just the head of the sarcophagus in view.
I rolled my eyes along with my head as the video faded to black before starting over. Neither Sn’ar nor I had any interest in watching the ten minute snoozefest again, so I turned off the display as Smythington sat with a lit pipe in his mouth pretending to read a book.
Sn’ar trilled in amusement. ‘Pooper, wasn’t he? No! Pompous!’
‘I think I liked the first definition better.’ I checked the environmental controls. Everything’s stable at -40º and he’s still dead. ‘White trillionaires. Wish we’d shot more of them into space before they died.’
Sn’ar trilled again.
‘Is your government agree for, for, how define…vivisection?’
My eyebrows shot up.
‘No! Autopsy! Yes. We autopsy.’ Sn’ar steepled its tentacles in the sign of respect.
‘Yes.’ I laced my fingers together and extended my arms for a moment to signify my reluctant-but-necessary agreement. ‘The M’au’au are allowed.’
‘You are unhappy on this.’
‘The contract is in order, but I think it is unnecessary. I think it is for show, for politics, not science. We have provided all on us already. What will you learn?’
‘We learn about Smythington,’ Sn’ar said as they cycled from deep orange to bright red, tentacles held together in a sphere to represent the universe.
I still haven’t fully learned how colors and hand gestures modify M’au’au words, let alone Earthlish. I think red usually means knowledge.
‘He was the richest guy on Earth, he paid for the interstellar extension of the transport network, so he got to go first. He had bad teeth, probably had halitosis and cancer, and according to histories, was a complete asshole to everyone who worked for him. As the first traveler, he was documented like crazy, including his health data. What else is there to learn?’
Sn’ar turned beige and held their tentacles out flat before wiggling them up and away from each other. ‘What was like Smythington.’
I didn’t know what beige meant. ‘What,’ I held flat then wiggled my fingers like Sn’ar had done, ‘mean?’
Their color changed to green. Impatience. ‘Universe. No! Everything! Scatter.’
I really didn’t care if they cut Smythington up. He wouldn’t know the difference. The funeral bier was my real prize and I was more than ready to offer up dear traveller Cockerell for it. Funeral biers were only manufactured before cryogenic suspension was mastered, about twenty years. Smythington’s was the most opulent and contained irreplaceable cultural relics that only a trillionaire could collect.
‘Earth requests the room as ours,’ I swept my arm around to encompass it.
Sn’ar changed to a deep blue and didn’t move. I looked directly into their glass-tipped lightstalks, waiting to hear what they would say. I realized that I had no idea if eye contact was a thing for them. Blue stands for thought? Or was it anger? I couldn’t remember.
A light humming emanated from Sn’ar while I was waiting.
Some negotiation tactics seem to be universal. Waiting silently for a response is one of them.
‘Agreed.’ Sn’ar extended their tentacles as I held my hands up, fingers extended for the sharing agreement. I took a tentacle into my mouth. It felt like warm, animated seaweed. Sn’ar accepted my right index finger into a vent. It felt rough and dry. Our DNA traded, I pulled back my finger and spat out the tentacle.
Sn’ar swirled red, yellow, and orange, a sign I did know as amused revulsion. I must have tasted as bad to them as they did to me.
I do regret that I wish I’d known what Sn’ar meant by autopsy. I never would have agreed. I would have gotten on the next shuttle back to a human planet and asked for an armed invasion to take the bier back with Smythington on board, and if that wasn’t possible, to exterminate the M’au’au species.
But I did agree, and as biers arrive closer in system over the next twenty years, a generation of dead Earthlings are now contractually bound to be re-animated into servants, pets even, of the M’au’au.
Lawyering with alien races is like this. There is always something in the language somewhere to trip you up before the culture falls down on top and knifes you.
I’m sorry. I’ll do better next time.