I feel a chill quavering through my bones. It grabs and shakes me as blaring sirens and flashing lights sputter about the room. For a moment I have no idea where I am and its rather frightening. I’m flushed in a panic almost powerful enough to make me forget how cold it is. I sit up and, almost involuntarily, blink a few times. Do my eyes deceive me? I see gray and purple-skinned creatures emerging from pods, their bodies glowing against the flashing lights. They too blink with their large black beady eyes and rub their frigid shoulders with long and slender three-pronged fingers. It can’t be – aliens! They appear just as lost as me – searching around the shimmering silver room for answers. “Cryostasis complete.” But the voice doesn’t sound exactly like that – it’s more like a series of high-pitched notes and dings.
The gears of my chilled brain begin churning, however slowly. As my mind begins to snap back to life I realize those aren’t aliens at all – at least not to me. That’s right, I’m remembering now: my name is Xal-E and I’m on a mission to a relatively nearby populated planet – only eighteen systems away. The others are members of my crew. I smile as the momentous nature of the moment washes over me once more. In a matter of an hour, our crew will be the third mission to make contact with a foreign planet. And perhaps this mission means even more to me than it does to the rest of my crew: perhaps I’ll be able to avenge my brother.
My brother, Xal-O, was on the last mission to a populated planet: the mission that failed. As I recall the day so vividly, a deep vibrating pain rushes through my appendages. I remember the chyrons covering every screen and projection in sight: CONTACT LOST WITH MISSION II. Excitement had turned to horror in a matter of moments. We learned that day how not every sentient being is so accepting of foreigners. Xal-O had embarked on a peaceful journey for which he’d prepared all his life only to be captured, beaten, and prodded almost instantly. Though it pains me to say, that crew made some crucial mistakes on their journey for which we have made sure to prepare this time.
And now I nod, remembering why I thought my fellow crewmates were aliens. See, this time we have decided the best course of action in the name of survival is emulation of the local fauna. “Emulation is the key to success,” Captain Kix-F said. We have at least a 40% higher chance of peaceful interaction if we emulate the locals’ style of communication. As such a matter could result in either the success or failure of our mission, we have all spent a large proportion of our preparatory period learning the planet’s customs – apparently long enough for me to forget I’m not one of them.
About two years ago, we intercepted radio wave transmissions of a show entitled ‘I Love Lucy’. After some triangulation, we were able to locate the planet from which it came. But a lot has changed about their culture since that show – the ways they greet and interact with one another, their technological tools, and even the way they look.
According to our media archives from the planet, I have identified a wide variety of sentient subspecies: one of them is in the shape of an unusually small bipedal creature, seeming to consist of cloth and beady marble eyes. On this third planet from the star, the creature has many names including ‘doll’, ‘toy’, ‘puppet’, ‘figurine’, and in some cases, ‘Chuckie’. It tends to carry a tool the planet identifies as a ‘kitchen knife’. From my observations, the dominant species on the planet seems to adore this little creature so much that they have featured it in countless forms of media, gift the species to their young as a pet, and even stockpile large quantities of them, sometimes never touching them again after acquisition.
One thing I learned from the one-meter-tall creature was the planet’s natural introductory customs: to flee. A quite unusual trait, yes, but it is not my job to cast judgement on their ways; my job is to emulate them.
I observed this as well in another creature which appeared to be marred by burns, but still quite alive. Our crew concluded the creature must be nearing extinction as we have only seen one of them, though it is overly represented throughout the locals’ media. Its skin is red and patchy. It wears a green and red striped torso cover and a tattered hair cover, but it no longer has any hair on account of the burns. Perhaps this creature will be more receptive to us due to our hairless nature. It also wears a glove on its dominant hand which has long blades in place of nails on the tip of each finger. The purpose of this hand cover is to interact with others in a swiping motion at their clothing. This often results in a dark red liquid oozing from the recipient. The recipient also usually yells out and collapses, thus finalizing the acquaintanceship. I’ve reconstructed one of these hand covers, and as we grow nearer, I put it on. I’m nearly jumping out of my flight suit with glee; the locals will surely admire me when they see this.
I’ve reconstructed another of their tools too – the oblong vibrating knife. It acts much like the kitchen knife used by the doll, but much more powerful. I found it truly amazing how much these technological innovations changed their communicatory methods. In media featuring the vibrating knife, the operator charges the device with a pull of a string – this is how the beings on the other side of this interaction know it’s time to commence their fleeing. I observed this method of communication in a series known as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. A ‘massacre’, I’ve concluded, is the local word for ‘party’ as many are involved in the interaction. One thing that’s consistent about the social fleeing is it never lasts long. Once I catch up to them, I will use my reconstruction of the tool to slice diagonally downwards at their torsos, as is customary. Again, I’ll be expecting to see that red liquid ooze out, almost like a reward for an interaction well done. Sometimes the oblong vibrating knife makes the liquid splatter too. I can’t wait to witness this myself.
I pick up the tool. It’s hard to grasp with my hand cover on, but it’ll be worth any discomfort. I know Xal-O would have taken these precautions too had he known. “Two minutes until landing,” the computer beeps. I pull the vibrating knife’s string and Eza-K giggles – what strange devices these beings use for communication.
I strap on a face cover I saw in another five or six works. The face cover has pale white skin, and black drooping eyes, a small nasal cavity, and an elongated mouth. They refer to this face cover as either ‘ghost face’ or ‘Scream’, depending on the iteration. I wonder if the features are supposed to resemble some fauna on their planet I have not yet seen.
The landing gears kick outwards onto the vibrant green surface which flaps like thin cloth. Steam rolls and encircles the ceiling of our ship’s cabin as it depressurizes. “Landed,” the ship beeps.
Eza-K puts on the yellowed-white face cover known as ‘Jason’. It has holes and red painted lines and is reminiscent of a protective cover used in cold-weathered sport here. This face cover is known as ‘Jason’.
Ova-Ip is wearing a white face cover with condensed facial features and a red grin known as ‘Pennywise’. This planet sure does love their face covers.
The ship’s door hisses open, now acting like a ramp to our new friends. I can feel the excitement amongst my crew. We’re scared because of what happened to my brother’s mission, but I know it’ll be better this time. This time we’re prepared.
I see the creatures have already gathered at the bottom of the ramp. They are here to commence the greeting rituals. I pull the vibrating knife’s string again. Its smoke bellows around me and its gaseous aroma wafts through my nostril. They begin to flee – just as we’d studied.