“A Night on the Town”

on

ESD April 18th, 2629

Malinowski Research Station, Trobriand Sector, Ryosh c

Ryosh System

 

I’ve never particularly thought of myself as a big deal. I did alright in school, managed to score a pretty solid gig in academia, got some papers published, and so on and so forth. Nothing that isn’t expected of every grad student in human space, which up until recently was just called “the known universe” as far as our species’ collective consciousness was concerned. Guess I just always figured that I was right about in the middle: too young to be a virtuoso, too old to be a prodigy. As you can imagine, getting a tickertape parade on an alien planet struck me as more than a little odd.

I should say it was the local equivalent of a tickertape parade. Now the big reception with some high-profile citizens of Metropolis and other cities was three days ago, and the time between then and now was given to us as a welcome-yet-not-welcome respite to set up our equipment and living quarters before the research proper began. Welcome because all that handshaking and baby-kissing (to be taken as figuratively as possible) left Korae pretty tuckered out, but not welcome because I didn’t come all this way just to put up pre-fabbed walls and organize an office. I’ve already got one of those back home. How about you just send me out there to do some namesaking, like good old Bronislaw with only a notebook and too much time on his hands? Pretty sure I could pull that off just fine.

Anyways, we were met here at Malinowski this morning by some more dignitaries. I won’t lie, I do feel bad for not knowing any of their names. It’s always the same, I suppose; until you can familiarize yourself to a given population, you start to pick out more distinguishing features between individuals who may have previously just been a big blob of otherness.

Mainly I’m just hoping that if anyone else really ends up reading these fieldnotes—which, given the unique nature of my research, is a distinct possibility—I won’t end up on the naughty list of some Intro to Xenology class in a hundred years. You know, the one every professor rolls out in the first couple weeks to show the discipline’s roots in what should be a warts-and-all depiction of where we started and how far we’ve come, but then just ends up being the only thing the non-majors take from the whole course. I’m convinced this is how anyone can take an anthropology class, get a reasonable grade, but still come away from it with the conclusion that anthropologists only “go out and study weird people in faraway places”. I say this, of course, with a full measure of self-awareness to the fact that this is exactly what I’m doing.

Boy, I’ve strayed from the point again, haven’t I? Let’s try this again. All of us researchers packed up our suits and headed to downtown Metropolis with a group of Ryoshi too big to count, for a night on the town (albeit in the morning). Try to dismiss any images of human cities and transportation methods from your head, because they really don’t approach the image I’m going to try and convey. I think I expected there to be cars or something similar, since that’s the gap in reality that a human’s brain tries to fill in with the familiar and known when told that an alien civilization has discovered rocketry. It sets you up for seeing technological advancement and invention as an unscientific linear progression that is anathema to archaeologists everywhere. Basically, you figure that since they have rockets and radios, they must be in some ways similar to what Earth civilizations looked like when they had comparable technology. So when the Ryosh delegation arrived at Malinowski riding biomechanical contraptions that looked like an unholy hybrid between a stingray and a jellyfish with lobster legs, I safely ejected the last vestiges of expectations for any technology even vaguely resembling 1950s America.

That description probably doesn’t help but that’s too bad, because I really have no other way to describe it. I’ll have to attach some holos later. Once we’d been helped up on these carnival oddities standing in in my mind for ancient American cars, the whole company made its way to the center of Metropolis. Now like I said, get any ideas of the familiar out of your mind right now to lessen the shock of the new as much as possible.

What I keep referring to as a city certainly is one, though there were no skyscrapers to be found. Instead, it was more what you’d imagine a space elevator made out of something resembling coral and steel would look like if it abruptly fell over and left giant, irregular chunks all over the island. Not to make this all sound haphazard or lazy, of course, since we have every indication of intense social cohesion and planning here on Ryosh c—lazy, uncoordinated species don’t build spaceships—but there wasn’t really a pattern I could discern. Maybe there was a pattern once but like many terrestrial cities, it got swallowed up in the sprawl. It’ll take some literal and figurative digging to figure that one out, I’m sure, though that definitely isn’t my department.

The parade continued onward, cutting through increasingly dense clumps of what we can only assume were housing blocks on its way to the biggest structures. I’m not good at estimating heights from a distance, but Jack in engineering is and said we were looking at around two hundred stories. Keep in mind that these all appeared to be at least partially organic and were in every color that the human brain and eyes can register, plus who knows how many more that it can’t.

Just guessing here, since it seems plausible that a species communicating with colors would most likely have exceptionally developed eyes to give it better color discernment. At least that’s what my level one understanding of how naturally selective pressures might’ve affected the Ryosh tells me to say. How many of these red and blue swatches on all the buildings are really redder than red and bluer than blue? Or what about the white areas? Maybe there are more colors overlaid on top of what I can see that form some sort of blended shade that’s just breathtaking to a Ryoshi but only one hue is visible to my puny human eyes? Who knows? It’ll give me something else to keep myself up at night with.

This is where you might expect the new arrivals to be feasted by the indigenies, but that’s not what happened. For one, we’re still wearing environment suits and we haven’t seen a atmospheric pressure-controlled room anywhere. Furthermore, I’m not sure Ryoshi food would agree with me. Not to say that it’s gross, but that a basic chemical analysis Errin ran on several types of edible algae given to us as what we can only infer to be a traditional offering to guests showed that each kilogram of the stuff contained around a 200% lethal dose of arsenic. Good thing I packed some snacks, right? I don’t imagine that we were seriously expected to eat it, but more that we were just supposed to appreciate the gesture (which we did). Do they have a local equivalent of an ethnographer to study us? I’m sure they do, and I’m sure their suggestion to the ones in charge of our little party was to demonstrate a welcoming ritual for us even if we couldn’t participate in the same way that a member of their species could. If so, thanks.

Can you tell that this was more than a little overwhelming? Because it really was nearing the limits of what I could take in for one day. Not only were there the visible and comprehensible parts of the whole experience, but also the ever-present thought that there was so much more than we could see and comprehend, leaving who knows how much more that might not even be barely hinted at. That’s the scary thing; I really have no idea what to expect. It’s not like a human society, where even a group of pioneers who purposely go off as far away from the rest of us as possible and get stumbled upon ten or twenty years later can still be relatable in a number of ways, like that guy they found living all by himself on Gorisan about five years ago.

But here? I’ve got next to nothing, and what I do have has to constantly be reevaluated to make sure I’m not relying on human assumptions, biases from being born in space, or that flawed little thought experiment I told you about earlier where Earth technology stands in falsely for what I don’t understand.

Let me tell you what. Now that all this pageantry has come to an end and I find myself back in my climate- and pressure-controlled room in Malinowski, I just really need a nap.

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