“Not to Sound Bitter”

ESD May 14th, 2629

Malinowski Research Station, Trobriand Sector, Ryosh c

Ryosh System

 

It has been 29 days since my arrival on Ryosh c. Not to sound bitter about it, but I’m getting a little worn out. Okay, more than a little worn out. Okay, I’m bitter, dammit. This is precisely the kind of thing that you think you’re escaping when you go into linguistic anthropology. You get your head filled up with ideas of diplomacy, cooperation, exploration, rah rah rah, then you wind up not being able to talk to anyone once you get there.

I can’t say I ever thought to envy the archaeologists, much less the biochemists, who can work freely without the guilt hanging over you that you haven’t even figured out how to ask anything yet, much less ask the right questions. It’s not like you can ask an organelle what its function is or a potsherd where it fits into the regional sequence. As aggravating as I’m sure that is, though, there’s no expectation that you could ever do so, and therefore less pressure to succeed in something that’s physically impossible. Yet here I am trying to communicate with aliens when even the most basic level of communication is eluding me.

The chromatophore part I get; I’m sure we all got that one right from the start. It’s what comes later that’s so infuriating at times. Just to watch seemingly every other team succeed in spite of my shortcomings (and they really are mine because there’s no way Larisha gets implicated in this as a research assistant) while I trudge along with the same pointless holo experiments…

Maybe I’m being too cynical about this, or at least just impatient. I know what I’m like. I get in these weird moods where nothing is good enough, everyone else is engaged in laudable enterprises except for me, etc. None of this is all that productive, really. I guess all I’d really like is to feel like I’m doing something that’s contributing to the mission, not just taking up breathable air that could be best used in the brains of more adept researchers.

There’s really no need to mope about this, especially when there’s work to be done, but that’s part of the problem. Settling on which work needs to be done has been the primary concern since day one down here. The most basic assumption in place at the moment—that the Ryosh beings are intelligent—isn’t going anywhere. But the obvious and necessarily corollary to all that is the existence of a real language, with its own complexity within the confines of grammatical and social rules. Inferring its existence is the kind of task I’d expect from a non-major undergrad. “Are these beings sentient according to this and given that” with the obvious answer being “of course they are”. It’s what follows that leaves me feeling like I’m the only one on the team who can’t see past the flickering lights on the cave wall to some real light, not just a reflection.

I almost don’t even want to admit it, especially when it feels like every single day gives us another unprecedented discovery from someone else. It gets awfully tiresome awfully fast. Not to say that I’m one of those people who has to succeed to the detriment of others or that no one can win here but myself, just that it would be nice to see even a little victory come my way over here.

Of course, I say that now. Asking for just one is usually just enough to get the genie of chance to tempt you with a vision of success, leaving you to wonder why you never thought to ask for more than what you got. Meanwhile, the idea that you get only what you deserve makes you wonder further about what you did to deserve all of this. Was it a test I could’ve studied for better? Doubt it, since none of this was testable when I was in undergrad. Or how about that monograph you should’ve read but instead you just skimmed the first and last chapters for the thesis statements and BSed your way through the discussion? It’s these little irrational fears that turn one into an irrational creature, staying up late to figure out your problems but only getting eye bags and a short temper for your trouble.

Is this really what I signed up for? Who else that’s got a nice, confident face on is really just wishing they’d decided to go home before attempting anything close to going big? Makes me wonder.

“Addendum”

ESD April 15th, 2629

Malinowski Research Station, Trobriand Sector, Ryosh c

Ryosh System

 

An addendum to the last: I haven’t stopped screaming since landing, at least in my head, and I may just keep it up until we leave. Please send throat lozenges.
That is all.

“Tantalus’ Figs”

ESD May 20th, 2629

Malinowski Research Station, Trobriand Sector, Ryosh c

Ryosh System

 

So Ores [11]  took off his helmet this afternoon. Errin said he just walked straight out of lunch, went down the road to the beach and popped it off. It’s a good thing somebody down there was watching out for this strange-looking biped in a bubble, because he’d already started in on the seizures before any of us could get to him. The fact that a Ryoshi doctor was first on the scene was the only thing comforting about it, aside from the expectation that he’ll survive, most likely without any permanent brain damage from oxygen poisoning.

At least the inhabitants of this planet can have some empathy, unlike the planet itself. I mean, just having to look at this place every single day is almost torture enough. Blue skies, white sand beaches, brilliant foliage… It’s like something out of humanity’s primordial dreams, especially for someone like Ores or me who grew up in an orbital tin can like Destiny. I can’t say I blame him, at least a little bit. OK, maybe I blame him a lot a bit. Ores sat through the same presentations as everyone else, where they told us that the atmosphere here would be toxic and no matter how good it looks, don’t think you’re special enough to tempt it. Instead, he goes and does this.

I think what bothers me the most is not that I’ve really been tempted like this before, but I’ve spent the last few hours wondering if I could be. What’s also still unclear is whether he really thought he’d be fine or if he’s got some sort of issue upstairs. Is it something that the rest of us need to worry about? Am I going to one day be looking out the window and suddenly get the urge to repeat the same thing?

Perhaps the real danger of this planet is that it looks so damn inviting. If we were living on some pre-terraformed Venus-like planet with sulfuric acid for rain and liquid mercury for rivers, you can bet there’d be no doubt about the instantaneous and certain nature of death on the surface. The issue here is that it always looks like paradise is just out of reach, like Tantalus’ figs, only to be snatched away at the last moment.

Should I be scared? Maybe the real scary part here is that I just don’t know.


      11. Ores Val (2620- ), Ryosh c biochemistry team member.

“A Night on the Town”

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.

“Like A Christmas Tree”

ESD June 9th, 2629

Malinowski Research Station, Trobriand Sector, Ryosh c

Ryosh System

 

I haven’t slept more than about five hours since my last entry. This was not entirely on purpose but I’m not fighting it either. Once I get started on something, it’s hard to convince my brain that it has to take a break because Korae is tired, and a tired Korae is increasingly more prone to making mistakes that could jeopardize her career. Can you imagine what would happen if I managed to screw the pooch on first contact? Who would hire me then? Would I just end up some has-been net crank?

Hold that thought. So here’s what we’ve been doing the last 40 or so hours. I told Geris about my idea first, since he’d help me work out the technical details of the suit before I took it upstairs to Errin for a little back-alley brain surgery. As expected, the ship’s engineer was all over the idea of building something improbable to accomplish the impossible. A handful of fabricated screens and circuit sheets later and we’re now in business. Step two is wrapping all this around the exterior of a spare environment suit and fitting some contact points on the back of the helmet for my electrodes to hook up and control the patterns.

Errin had to wait until all this was done, which was a couple hours ago. The bedside manner training was pretty evident, given how well the whole thing actually went over compared to how it could have. No shouting, no threats, no accusations of mental breakdown, but no smiling either. All he said for about five minutes, between scratching at his stubble and looking over our little creation, was “hmmmm” and finally “I don’t see why not”. That last part took all my professional dignity (or at least what I presume to call that) to not make me start jumping up and down like I’d won a new spaceship.

I’d never been so excited to go under the knife. I use the past tense because he was able to do one better than what I’d been anticipating. Turns out I won’t need implants to get this done, but I will have to shave a couple strips of hair on the back of my head to make room for contact electrodes. Why, that’s many times less unpleasant than what I was quite ready to undergo, and apparently it only gets better from there. If we had access to a better machine shop and fabricator, like some of the more top-of-the-line, hospital-grade units, we wouldn’t even need contact electrodes, just a spec-fabbed electrode mesh to line the inside of the color suit’s helmet. Well, shit. Here I was ready to get my head sliced open and some future researcher won’t even have to shave their head to do what I’m about to do.

I guess I can live with this. After all, it’s the little sacrifices that build up over time to getting remembered forever. Pretty sure that’s how that works. Let all the future ling anth undergrads read in their overpriced textbooks about this goofy-looking weirdo named Korae Hallin, who made history looking like she’d lost a fight with a shaver while she was lit up like a Christmas tree. And what do the Ryosh kids of the future get to think about me for doing the same thing? The Christmas tree idiom probably won’t even translate.

If I’m worried about that of all things, then it’s really time for me to get to sleep.

“Back to Work”

ESD June 7th, 2629

Malinowski Research Station, Trobriand Sector, Ryosh c

Ryosh System

 

Gorrin was right. It took a little more than just sitting on the beach to fix me up, but I still call it a success based on the fact that we just made the biggest breakthrough of the entire study as a result. Of course, the biggest breakthrough of our study makes it one of the biggest breakthroughs in human history, but that just goes with the territory. I keep telling myself this to prevent myself from hyperventilating. When you’re already farther out than you’ve ever been, every step is breaking your previous record.

Now for the update. I got back to Malinowski yesterday morning with the goofiest smile on my face, probably making Larisha wonder if isolation had finally cracked me. I know I said I wouldn’t talk about this anymore but she really is attractive, even sweaty and without makeup. Not that I really expected the inverse 140 lightyears or so away from home, of course, but I guess I just know how to pick ‘em. Did I mention that she’s brilliant too? Pretty sure I have but it can’t hurt to reiterate. Within about two minutes of all my corrections and hypotheses about our experiments starting to tumble out of my mouth, she was already making a list of collaborators to call in again. Since we don’t know what they call themselves yet, we could only assign numbers. Those were easy enough for our Ryosh intermediaries to understand, so they’ve been using the same system too. At least that’s what I assume.

I really can’t understate how much it feels like we’re just wandering around in the dark here, or how much we were up until as soon as I figure out how to wire the color suit (this is still what I’m going with until something better comes along). For all the progress we’ve made in separating the signals and noises, we may as well be tossing rocks down a well and waiting for a splash that’s taken two months to reach the surface. What hair wasn’t already pulled out has now turned gray, but let me tell you it feels fantastic to finally hear that splash.

Once our list of call-backs is done, we’ll get in touch with one of our intermediaries, a biologist I’ve been calling Lavender due to the color he (guessing here) usually manifests. Lavender seems like a cheery enough individual that my first guess was that this color has some correlation to the Ryosh equivalent of cheeriness, but it’s anyone’s guess at this point.

Hey, I know: I’ll finish the color suit and ask! Sounds good.

“In Other News”

ESD June 5th, 2629

Jocano Research Station, Trobriand Sector, Ryosh c

Ryosh System

 

In other news, I totally forgot to mention this yesterday, which says something about how excited I was about the other thing. So one of my collaborators informed me the day before that he’d done some calculations on a whim (of course) and came to the conclusion that if I were to hike up to somewhere between twelve and fifteen hundred meters above sea level, there was a good chance I’d be able to breathe. “A good chance” was my guess at what he really said, since I still have yet to figure out anything of consequence about the Ryosh language, but it’s probably close enough. Quite the conclusion to pull from a barometric pressure chart and some color patterns I can’t understand, right?

I should mention that I did not ask Gorrin for permission to do what I did, nor do I expect to ever ask for forgiveness as these field notes probably won’t ever be published until/unless both of us are dead. Here goes.

Turns out the HUD on our environment suits has an altimeter and pressure gauge, and that the mountains south of Jocano Research Station can reach between one and two thousand meters in height. Some farther south are taller, but even ninety-two percent Earth gravity still reminds me sufficiently that I’m a little out of shape (being generous here). I settled on one that I’m calling Olympus Jr., because what else would a Jovian call a mountain?

I don’t know if human or Ryosh languages can really, truly express what it looks like from up there, so I won’t try. What I can tell you is that after all this, after standing on my little Olympus like a little Athena and just taking it all in, problems and beauty and oxygen and all, I’m ready.

I’m ready.

“Putting the Team Together”

ESD October 7th, 2628

Destiny Colony, Jupiter

Sol System

 

After two weeks of looking over CVs and writing samples from just about everywhere in human space, I finally sent out the biggest news since I got my own letter. Lots of promising candidates—not all of whom were informed by their respective faculty advisers and program directors that they’d been recommended for this trip—and somehow I narrowed it down to one.

It’ll be weird working with a twenty-two year old. I remember being twenty-two, still screwing around in undergrad and trying to balance a part-time job with conference papers I wasn’t expected to write for another couple years. Larisha Eren, on the other hand, graduated high school a year early out of Epsilon Indi and got herself a full-ride at Tau Ceti Public University, where she finished her Bachelor’s in Linguistics in three years. She’d already gotten into their PhD program when I snapped her up, which in any other case might’ve been a problem. Luckily for her, any dissertation committee in the known universe would let someone with her qualifications get away with researching whatever she damn well pleases. No need to worry about your program’s prestige when you’ve got an in on the first team to study a sentient alien species.

The rest of the team seems solid as well. I can’t speak to a lot of their expertise but a few of them are names I’ve seen around before. Marius Dubé and Tony Holdsworth are both solid picks for ethnography team lead and assistant, respectively. I might’ve seen Gorrin Webb give a presentation at a conference a few years back, probably part of the Cosmo-Anthropology series on Mars. But other than those three, I’ll have to remember to read up on them later.

Right now, I’m still busy putting together my bibliography. It was supposed to be done yesterday but you’d be surprised how much speculative bullshit there is out there to sort through. Of the nearly two hundred articles I put on my long list to cut down when I wasn’t panicking so much, probably a quarter of them made some reference to tentacles. I could be exaggerating but I could’ve sworn I saw a bunch of them. A few of them, surprisingly enough, were published in journals I’d once considered reputable. What I managed to glean out of this glorified slush pile were largely ethical treatises, since anything that tried to get more specific than just “don’t screw up first contact” gradually degenerated into endless streams of hypotheticals about alien physiology and human lifestyle adjustments on the planet.

These last mental exercises might be more useful if we didn’t already know what we know about Ryosh c. I didn’t understand most of the more technical details at first but now I think I’ve got a firm enough grasp on it to not be terrified. The Ryosh system is located 139.29 lightyears from Sol, which in cosmological terms is a gentle stroll. All I know is that that’s a much, much bigger number than the just over five astronomical units between Sol and me.

As for the planet itself, I think I might die when I get there. Not only because the atmosphere’s 33% O2 content would kill me from hyperoxia, but because it sounds like a paradise planet dreamed up by the loneliest cubicle-bound grad student to ever live. 81.6% liquid water on the surface, with a smattering of tropical islands around the middle and temperate biomes leading up to diminutive ice caps on either pole. And did I mention that at 0.92 terrestrial masses, I’ll finally get to say I dropped that last ten pounds I’ve been trying to get rid of since summer?

The other details of Ryosh c’s orbit aren’t as important for what I’m trying to do here, nor do they give me any pointers on what to wear (environment suits only) or how Ryosh (that’s what I’ve decided to call them) individuals communicate. The big takeaways for now are that 1.) I’m going to be neither freezing my ass off on some ice moon nor melted within seconds of landing in a Venusian apocalypse, 2.) the organizing committee appears to know what they’re doing, and 3.) this might actually be doable.

I suppose I’ll find out soon enough.

“Irrational”

ESD June 2nd, 2629

Jocano Research Station, Trobriand Sector, Ryosh c

Ryosh System

 

Today I realized that simply knowing a behavior is irrational doesn’t make it stop. If anything, it makes you try even harder to rationalize it. This constantly beating myself up over perceived inadequacies has to stop. I’m a big girl with a big girl degree and a big girl job title, sitting in a big girl office on the farthest planet from Earth humans have ever lived on in the history of the species. Time to suck it up.

“A Much-Needed Break”

ESD May 31st, 2629

Jocano Research Station, Trobriand Sector, Ryosh c

Ryosh System

 

I was told today to take what Gorrin called “a much-needed break”. Apparently, he thinks I’m working too hard and as much as I wanted to tell him that he 1.) didn’t know me and 2.) could stick it, I agreed. Something about Larisha agreeing too—to the point of threatening to lock me out of the lab—finally pushed me over the edge.

So instead of sitting on a beach near Malinowski, I’m sitting on a beach near Jocano. I can’t say I’m really enjoying the transition as much as Len and Gorrin thought I would, not because I don’t like it here but more because I don’t like it as much. Rather than the tropical paradise farther south, Jocano Station is in a much more northern latitude, well out of the tropics and into the temperate zone. Instead of white sand, these islands look more like what I’ve seen of England and the North Atlantic back on Earth: limestone cliffs, most not very tall but some reaching over fifty meters; forests of what we’ve called coral trees for their fiery color rather than the blue and green foliage of the tropics. Maybe I’m being too hard on my new surroundings to consider them as strangely beautiful as I should, or maybe it’s just the feeling that I should really be back at Malinowski.

It’s a thought I should try harder to repress.