ESD June 4th, 2629
Malinowski Research Station, Trobriand Sector, Ryosh c
Have you ever racked your brain for months and months looking for the answer to some question that’s way too big for you, only to realize much later that you’re actually an idiot? Because let me tell you… I should say that as dumb as I do feel about this, it bears mentioning that I was able to figure it out in the end. This is where it gets interesting.
Our color/stimulus experiments continued for the last few days just as they had before, with one exception: we called some of our old collaborators back in to do a new set of questions, only this time it was explained to them beforehand that Larisha would be interviewing them instead of me. It was the only variable we could think of that might explain why the reactions we saw to questions we thought were so simple could be so disparate. We did the same thing with new collaborators by splitting their interviews into two distinct halves, one led by me and the other led by Larisha.
Once we got the footage back to the lab for review, we realized with not a little frustration that that was exactly the variable we should’ve been observing the whole time. Who’d have imagined that a species which communicates by changing the color of its skin would view us monochromatic beings as if we were constantly in a single emotional state? I damn well should’ve, that’s who. Naturally, I’m sure my academic advisor (and perhaps more importantly, my student loan officer) would be pleased to know that all those seminars on research methodology, ethnographic note-taking and qualitative reasoning finally paid off. Here’s how it happened.
Turns out that when the average Ryosh youth or child looked at me, Korae Hallin from Sol, they thought I was constantly irritated. I wish I was kidding, but I’m not. Try as I might, even four centuries and 140 light years can’t wholly separate me from that ancient angry black woman stereotype (Marius  sure got a kick out of this when I told him). But am I really angry? I don’t think so. Slightly annoyed, maybe, and by a number of things: the damn beaches here; the language barrier; that rule I made for myself about never getting romantically involved with grad students no matter how attractive they are… But I wouldn’t call myself constantly irritated, as if that matters to adolescents who apparently assume that if they can speak with their skin color, then so can the squishy little aliens who ask them to come in and watch them try to mime actions which even children think are easy.
I can’t fault them for that. I mean, how long did I and the rest of my species assume that when we finally met aliens, they’d be able to hold spoken conversations with us, walk around on two legs and be vertically symmetrical, perhaps even anthropomorphic? I won’t lie and say that it’s not a tempting expectation to have, no matter how wrong of an expectation it is, and especially considering the now pretty-well proven assumption that we’re only one (now two) bubbles of sentient life in a big universal bubble bath?
Now relating directly to the Ryosh, this new realization taught us a few things. First, it told us is that there are, in fact, direct correlations between emotional states and the colors displayed by Ryosh individuals. This makes my job a lot easier than it could’ve been. Second, we’d established a baseline for not just the emotional state of irritation, which incidentally was similar to my own skin color, but also metacommunication manifesting itself as unease. We were able to demonstrate this further by noting that older individuals typically gave us more straightforward responses that lacked this metacommunicative frame. Our current hypothesis is that this is because they were more emotionally and intellectually mature, they were less likely to project their own communicative devices and linguistic ideologies onto us and thereby presume that I was perpetually angry.
It feels like I was in a long hallway just staring at a door, not realizing that I already knew how to open it; of course, now that it’s open, there are naturally a thousand or more doors on the other side but all with similar keys. I can’t wait to jiggle all those locks now. And what are those locks, you ask? Well, the first thing this lets us investigate is grammar of what I’m calling standard communication, similar to the differentiation between standard and colloquial English. This is where we go back to langue and parole. Once we begin to understand the langue, the intricacies of the parole (or at least one of likely many versions used within Alpha Group) can be explored in further detail.
Among the various cans of worms opened by this effort is the possibility which I’m considering a fact of life that there are likely hundreds or thousands of sociolects and dialects under the larger “Alpha Group” umbrella. These could be anything I can or can’t imagine, including gendered, socioeconomic, and age-based forms, which naturally makes things more complicated, but since when is learning a language not complicated? Figuring this out will be difficult if I can’t initiate direct communication and make these differentiations by trial-and-error. Now the question becomes how do I talk to someone who doesn’t talk, which could prove fatal to the work ethic of a lazy academic but won’t to me, because I’m a grown-ass woman.
Here’s how I think I’m going to do it. The first step will be convincing Errin that I need my brain to be hooked up to electrodes. This will be the hard part. Once I do that, I can start work on what I will oh-so-creatively refer to as a color-suit. Electrical engineering of a full-body covering for my pressure suit that also interfaces with the cognitive centers of my brain will be only the second-hardest part, since Geris  is such a sucker for this sort of thing. I only have a rough idea of how this is supposed to work but if it does, it should enable me to communicate directly with my collaborators for the first time. Let me rephrase that in a more self-aggrandizing but admittedly too-cool light: it will let me be the first human being to have a real conversation with an alien species in their own communicative medium.
I figure I’m already wearing a suit, so why the hell not? Sure, there are pitfalls to this approach, namely its reliance on the assumption that human and Ryosh cognitive and emotional states are even remotely compatible enough to enable effective communication, but what’s the worst that can happen? If they haven’t eaten me yet, I really doubt that anything I do from here on out with good intentions can really change that.
Famous last words, right?
15. Marius Dubé (2584- ), Ryosh c ethnography team lead.
16. Geris Nol (2597- ), chief engineer aboard the IRIS San Jacinto.